To Dub or Not To Dub?

As a British-born Chinese citizen, I adore old Hong-Kong martial arts films.  By the time Jackie Chan had made his Hollywood debut, I had seen a number of his critically acclaimed films such as Project A, Wheels on Meals (set and filmed in Barcelona) and Armour of God (where he almost died after a stunt went wrong).

One particular film that stood out was City Hunter, where Jackie Chan plays a bumbling detective caught in the middle of a raid on a cruise ship. The film was quite special as it featured Eastern and Western martial artists with speaking parts – something that I had rarely seen at the time.

I first watched it with all the dialogue in English (even that of the Asian actors) when I was around 10 years old and found it hilarious, but I watched it again several years later only to find all the dialogue was in Chinese, and I didn’t find it so funny. There was a time in the 1980s when martial art films became almost ‘cultish’ with TV audiences, particularly in America. The reason? Whenever they were shown on TV – usually on a weekend when kids were home and could mimic the moves – you had a really bad dialogue (loosely translated from the original script) and terrible lip sync.

Animated films are fortunate enough to not be so heavily affected by dubbing, but when you compare a dubbed live-action with one in its original language, you have to wonder if dubbing is really necessary. Sure, the inclusion of English in any media will make it more accessible than leaving it in languages such as Arabic, Chinese or Spanish, but I would like the idea of all the characters speaking in their own language and providing subtitles where necessary. A colleague pointed out that Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino is an example of this and it is this feature that explains why it is one of my current-favourite films. All the characters speak their native language or speak the language relevant to the scene with subtitles appearing only when they’re needed.

Dubbing allows the audience to hear a piece of dialogue in a way that is culturally relevant to them and it’s often seen as an alternative to subtitling because the idea of reading during a film can put people off. But this also robs the film of something that’s significant to the nationality of the speaker, lessening the impact of any colloquial phrase.

Are you pro-dubbing or against it?  Do you see the need to read subtitling?


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