Monday, January 17, 2005

Translations found

When Hollywood films play in Thailand, the titles are often changed to make them more marketable. SmartLife, a weekly teen supplement to The Nation recently did a rundown of these titles, translating them back to English:

Hollywood may make great movies, but its titles aren't always up to snuff. So the Thai film industry employs an army of experts who tweak English-language titles to make them more palatable.

Kill Bill becomes Samurai Angel. Ocean's Twelve morphs into Twelve Crowns Robbing the World. And White Chicks is renamed The Crazy Couple Dressed in Big, Sexy Bodies.

Conjuring up new titles is a tough job, especially since Thai marketers rarely see the movies before they pen their names.

"We have to come up with the Thai titles three to five months before the movies are released, but the films only arrive a month before they're show on the screen," says Pratoun Dithiphan, marketing director for Columbia Tri-Star Thailand.

Pratoun relies on a brief synopsis, a list of stars and a 30- to 90-second trailer supplied by the studio to formulate five to 10 titles. His titles are then submitted to an in-house board that votes for the best one. He says some of the best titles use words that raise curiosity among moviegoers. "I renamed Anacondas as Crawling, Shocking the World. I think it catches the eyes and ears of Thais who see or hear it," Pratoun says.

Other marketers do extensive research to devise titles. "We read film reviews in overseas magazines and surf the Web for information," says Supakorn Terasetpisal, planning supervisor for BNT Entertainment.

Based on the synopsis, trailers and research, I, Robot - a thriller about a robot rebellion - became Killing Plan of the Machines Trying to Swallow the World. And Ladder 49 - a tale of firefighters risking their lives - was re-titled Wild Unit Fighting the Fire of Hell.

"Many filmgoers, particularly those living upcountry, pay more attention to the Thai title than the original title because they lack English-language skills," explains Chavana Pavaganun of Mongkol Films. "So we search for the movie's strength and emphasise it in the title."

Often that strength is the movie's star. Arnold Schwarzenegger is known as Iron Man, the Thai title for Terminator. Bruce Willis is called Tough, the Thai moniker for Die Hard. Mel Gibson is Dangerous Man (Lethal Weapon), and Jackie Chan is Fight, which is what he does in movies.

But the strategy sometimes backfires. Julie Roberts has long been known as Blossom Woman, from the title of her first hit, Pretty Woman. When Notting Hill was released in Thailand, it became Blossom Love in Notting Hill.

"But Julia Roberts isn't a ban-cham [blossom] anymore. She has become ban-chae [withered] now that she has two kids," says Chavana. So, her pet name has been dropped.

Similarly, Richard Gere's appeal as an American Gigolo (his first hit movie) has long waned.

"Gere used to be so attractive, especially to girls, that I called him 'Prince Charming' [Theb-Pha-But] in his movies.

"But times change and the phrase Theb-Pha-But doesn't fit him anymore," observes Henry Tran, the Thailand general manager for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp and Warner Bros.

The elements that make a good title remain elusive. "But if there's a criteria for renaming English titles, then it should describe the movie and convey its context and theme," says Chavana, a lecturer in journalism at Thammasat University. "Just reading or listening to the movie title, viewers should know what the movie is about."

So, Blade Trinity is billed as Blade 3: Cold-Blooded Immortal Species. Finding Nemo is Nemo: Tiny Fish with a Giant Heart. And Freddy vs Jason is Freddy vs Jason: The Night of Bursting Hell.

Other titles are simply transliterated into Thai. Troy and Shrek 2 use Thai characters that sound exactly like spoken English.

"Thirty years ago, all movie titles had to renamed because so few Thais spoke English," says Tran of Fox and Warner. "But now more Thais speak English, so the importance of Thai titles has decreased ever so slightly and transliterations are being used more.

In the future, it's possible there will be no more renaming of movie titles and we'll just use English titles."

( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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