HCM City-based translator Nguyen Le Chi, who owns Chibooks company, recently joined an international workshop on TV and movie script translating and voice dubbing as part of the Shanghai International Film Festival held between June 13 and 21.
Culture Vulture chats with her about what happened.
Please tell us about the event.
The conference brought together dozens of translators and film producers from more than 30 countries, including the United States, Britain, Australia, South Korea, France and Germany. Participants exchanged experiences in translating television and movie scripts.
The event was organised on a large scale, professionally and seriously. We had a chance to visit Shanghai Cinema Museum and chat with directors and actors who worked as voice actors. The conference was quite useful to those dedicated to translating film scripts precisely while maintaining the feeling and meaning of the original scripts. When dealing with voice dubbing, there are also strict translating requirements in terms of techniques, such as lip synchronisation.
What work did you share at the conference?
I was able to talk about 17 years translating TV series and movie scripts, including popular ones like Not One Less, The Road Home and Happy Times by Chinese director Zhang Yi Mou, Red Cliff by director John Woo and hundreds of TV series produced in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
I also spoke about obstacles for film translators in Viet Nam, such as the lack of working facilities. Sometimes we just have the hard (written) copy of dialogues between actors, but we don't have the film to watch. This makes it difficult to translate pronouns and understand the relationship between characters.
Sometimes we see a DVD of the film, but don't have scripts to follow. If the film has no sub-titles, we have to translate and guess the relationship between the characters. This can be very difficult when translating into Vietnamese, because the exact pronoun must fit the character.
At the meeting, I learned that film translation work is highly appreciated in many countries. There are private companies specialising in script translating and voice dubbing. The working conditions they provide are fairly good. They watch the film several times and they have scripts, which means they can translate precisely.
They work in team rather than independently like their counterparts in Viet Nam.
What do you think about film translators in Viet Nam?
I think they are suffering. No one seems to care about their work. The local media hardly ever mentions or praises any film translator. Yet book translators receive plenty of attention.
Film translators in Viet Nam work very hard, without proper working conditions. They also have to endure time pressures, low wages and they have almost no social status. They get a script only one or two weeks before a deadline. If they are lucky, they are given both DVDs and printed scripts. Otherwise, they have only one source of words.
How much do film translators add to a film's success?
Script translating is highly appreciated in many countries. Translators are really like bridges to put the soul back into films again. A well-translated dialogue may last in the audience's mind for a long time.
Translators should have diversified living experience and rich stocks of vocabulary in the languages they translates. I have seen many movies in which characters use lots of silly slang words because the translator did not fully understand the original version. Some dialogues mean to be funny produce not the slightest smile because the translator missed the point.
What do you think the State should do?
Two thirds of movies screened in domestic cinemas are foreign. This means we need many translators. It would help if the State invested in a translation centre at Viet Nam Television to gather experienced translators. Translators could also be helped to join short courses overseas.
Presently, most translators are amateurs because no one can live on the income from translating film scripts in Viet Nam.
If the State sets up a fund to introduce Vietnamese culture abroad including films, books…that will be fine. However, the fund manager should be very objective in choosing companies working actively in the field. — VNS