I have previously transcribed dialogue from “Lost In Translation” and “Romeo Must Die” and translated it for my language courses. I just recently watched “Jet Li’s Fearless” on Amazon Prime, and there is a scene with which I take particular issue, which I would like to transcribe here.

To give some background, this scene takes place after the protagonist (霍元甲, Huò YuánJiǎ) has had his revelation that things that are different are not necessarily better or worse than each other, and has therefore founded his “Jingwu Sports Federation” to teach all styles of wushu: “All styles of wushu are respected equally.” He is meeting with a Japanese martial artist for tea. The following Chinese transcript is taken from the internet, and I have modified according to the version I saw (there are two extra sentences and one phrase I changed, from “不过” to “有” as is said in the version available to me).


田中:先生的这番话,使得安野非常的敬佩! 品茶!

The English subtitles are as follows:

Tanaka: Do you know anything about teas, Mr. Huo?
Huo YuanJia: I don’t really want to know because I don’t like categories. Tea is tea.
Tanaka: Each has its own characteristics, hence different grades.
Huo YuanJia: What’s the purpose of grading? All teas are grown in nature with little discernable differences.
Tanaka: Once you learn, you can tell the difference.
Huo YuanJia: Maybe you’re right. The way I see it, the tea is not in a position to judge itself. We should let people be the judge of the tea. As for me, I don’t want to do that.
Tanaka: Why not?
Huo YuanJia: When you are in a good mood, the grade of the tea does not matter.
Tanaka: I’ve never seen it that way. Even with the various Wushu styles, you still claim that no one style is superior to the others?
Huo YuanJia: That’s what I believe.
Tanaka: Then I have another question. If no particular style is superior, why have so many competitions?
Huo YuanJia: I believe it is impossible to claim the superiority of one style over another. It’s just that the people who practice them have different skill levels. Competitions can help us uncover our weaknesses and discover that we are our own enemy.

Tanaka: Mr. Huo, your words are poignant. Please enjoy.
Huo YuanJia: Thank you.

And finally, my translation of the Chinese follows below (though not word for word, as I do for some translations to better assist Chinese learners).

Tanaka: Mr. Huo, how is it said that you really don’t understand teas?
Huo YuanJia: It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I don’t wish to know. I don’t want to categorize teas as good or bad. As long as it’s tea, that’s fine.
Tanaka: But this tea does have differing characteristics which are good or bad to distinguish it.
Huo YuanJia: What is good? What is bad? In and of themselves, they grow in their natural environments, without any distinction of good or bad.
Tanaka: It seems that your excellency really doesn’t understand, otherwise you’d naturally be able to tell whether they’re good or bad.
Huo YuanJia: The mister’s [referring to Tanaka] words are indeed correct. So, the way I see it, the quality of teas is not told to us by the tea, rather it is for people to decide, and different people will make different choices. I do not wish to make this choice.
Tanaka: Oh? Why not?
Huo YuanJia: Drinking tea is a kind of frame of mind. If your frame of mind is on the mark, then is it that important whether the tea is good or bad?
Tanaka: Oh, Anno [referring to himself in 3rd person, as is polite] hadn’t thought about that before. According to mister’s [referring to Huo YuanJia] point of view, of the many varied kinds of wushu schools of thought in the world, would you say there is not any categorization of good or bad among them?
Huo YuanJia: I think it is so.
Tanaka: Then, mister, Anno [referring to himself in 3rd person again] would like to ask for your teaching. As wushu [schools of thought] have no distinction as good or bad, why must we compete in martial arts tournaments?
Huo YuanJia: I believe, the wushu in this world truly does not have any distinction as being good or bad. It is only wushu practitioners who have strengths and weaknesses to distinguish them from each other, and through tournaments we can discover and recognize our real selves, because our real opponent is most likely just ourselves!
[Tanaka reflects silently.]
Tanaka: The mister’s [referring to Huo YuanJia] words make Anno [referring to himself in 3rd person] admire you greatly! [Here is a phrase similar to "please enjoy your tea!"]
Huo YuanJia: [Says the preceding ritualistic phrase back to him]

I think my biggest issue here is that the subtitles make Huo YuanJia sound ignorant, as though he really thinks there are “little discernable differences.” But in the Chinese, he is making a pointed statement about his entire philosophy with regards to life, wushu, and, in this case, tea. It also makes him sound like a simpleton to say “When you are in a good mood, the grade of the tea does not matter.” I think he is referring more to being in the right frame of mind to enjoy the tea for what it is, here.

Then, when Tanaka says “I’ve never seen it that way” in the subtitles, I think the following question, with the words “even” and “still,” make it sound as though his statement of “I’ve never seen it that way” is intended to mean that he absolutely does not agree, as if he said “I do not see it that way.” But my interpretation of the Chinese and his tone of voice there gives more of the impression that the viewpoint he was just presented with is not something that has occurred to him in the past, and that he will ponder it now or in the future.

Overall, when watching the scene and focusing on the English subtitles, I was very confused as to why Huo YuanJia was being so simple/ignorant, and whether Tanaka was truly disagreeing throughout the scene or actually coming to see things Huo YuanJia’s way. With another watching focusing on listening to the Chinese, the scene became much more profound and in line with the overall tone, the overall message, and the flow of the plot of the movie.

There are times when the words that are said are imbued with so much underlying meaning that it is difficult to produce subtitles which can be read in the amount of time it takes the characters to speak the words, especially when speaking in certain styles of Chinese that are very formal and succinct. I don’t know if that’s what happened here, or if this was just an awkward translation that made it through to the final version, but I hope this post shed some light on this scene and helps with the overall understanding/interpretation of the movie.

As a side note: I was trying to figure out what the Japanese character’s name was in Japanese (as the Chinese characters pronounce the Chinese characters in Mandarin rather than Japanese) for the translation, and searched it in Jim Breen’s Japanese Dictionary, specifically the Japanese Names dictionary. Interestingly, the results in order were “Yasuno” for place, surname or female given name, “Anno” for female given name or surname, “Ano” for unspecified person name, and “Aya” for female given name. Among these, then, “Ano” seems like the winner. However, the name in the English credits (which scroll alongside the Chinese credits) is printed as “Anno Tanaka.” Okay, so at this point I’m thinking: there are actually two Japanese men playing the two Japanese characters (as opposed to cross-casting where Chinese women play Japanese women, Korean men play Japanese men, Korean men play Chinese men, and so on (and these are just the examples I came up with in a few seconds off the top of my head), as if all Asians are interchangeable, which we are not, thank you very much), so maybe this could be accurate and the dictionary has simply not added the possibility of “Anno” being a male given name. Then, later in the credits the other Japanese character’s name is simply given as “Mita,” even though in the Chinese credits, his name is “Mita Ryuuichi” (romanized from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters which appear). Now, I realize that the credits really are just done by some random other person involved in the movie. Listening to the Japanese in the movie, I’m unable to distinguish any other form of address Mita uses to address Tanaka other than “Tanaka-kun.” And a brief google search failed to find me any transcripts of the Japanese (so please let me know if you find anything helpful!), though it did give me other English transcripts of this same scene, not necessarily done because the English subtitles presented such a stark contrast to the tone/message I got from the spoken Chinese, but because it is a poignant and important scene. This, of course, makes me all the more sad that the English subtitles failed to grasp the subtleties and the weight of this dialogue.

WordPress Themes