Help Translating Chinese Character from Movie
November 4, 2020 10:58 AM   Subscribe

In the movie TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA, at about 50:18 in, there's a garage door that has a Chinese character on it. (Or at least I assume it's a Chinese character, because a character refers to it as one a few seconds earlier.) What does the character mean?
posted by UncleBoomee to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
It is a chinese-inspired graphic, somewhat resembling the character for food.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2020

I think it most resembles this which, not sure about translation but I found this.

Other characters with the same upper 人 radical can be found here.
posted by juv3nal at 6:30 PM on November 4, 2020

Best answer: I'm not sure I agree with dum spiro spero. It reads pretty unambiguously as to me as a Japanese speaker. You can see examples of script versions of that character that look like this one on a dictionary like this one.

As far as the meaning goes, in have no idea what was intended by the production staff, but as far as I know it just means to fit, join, close together. There might be some other connotation, but don't speak Chinese or have enough cultural background to say.
posted by wakannai at 12:26 AM on November 5, 2020

I read it is a cursive version of "ming", 命, which means "life". It looks different than the printed version as many cursive or calligraphic characters do and sometimes they're hard to decipher.I may be wrong, but I do read and speak Chinese although not natively.

I don't think it's a "chinese-inspired graphic". It's Chinese, just written in a stylized way so harder to decipher.
posted by bearette at 4:33 AM on November 5, 2020

Wakannai perhaps is right! It also looks like a cursive 合。i may have been influenced to thinking it's a cursive version of 命 (life) due to the movie's title.
posted by bearette at 4:37 AM on November 5, 2020

Best answer: It can be seen in the excellent resource linked-to by wakannai that in the various calligraphic styles that the dash in 合 is always straight, not arched like in the graphic. Unlike in Western typography, it does matters in calligraphy if you have a straight or an arched line.

Also, the rendition of 口 is off. Often it can have a slight asymmetry due to making the left downstroke first, then using one single stroke to render the remaining three sides of the box. However, in the graphic, the left downstroke starts higher than the right (another instance where it changes the glyph completely), an also the right stroke has too much of a weird unbalanced tail.

It can't be 命 because then it should have two separate side-by-side elements at the bottom. It only has the one misshapen box-like thing with a tail.

It may appear that there's a lot of latitude in calligraphy, but there are rules. I find it interesting as an example of something that appears pleasing within the Western graphic tradition, but clearly uninformed of the Chinese calligraphic tradition.
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:37 AM on November 5, 2020

I think wakannai is right. You can simply do a Google image search for 合 and find examples that match the garage door pretty closely. The Mandarin reading is , the Cantonese is gap. It can mean "close/shut", or "join/unite", or "conform to".

If you image search for "口 caoshu" (cursive), the bit at the bottom of 合, you will see how the box is written in cursive. The graphic seems like an awkward attempt to copy one of those. And yeah, the line above shouldn't be so curvy.
posted by zompist at 4:43 AM on November 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's possible that it was originally inspired by 合 rather than 食. I can totally see that.

Aside from the technical wrongness of the dash and box, I'm hoping that people can see that it doesn't convey harmony and tranquility in the way that actual serious calligraphy practioners do. It's hard to explain the whole tradition. It's a great meditative practice though, grinding ink and putting brush to paper.
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:57 AM on November 5, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the analysis, all! I was curious about it because the garage is the studio/hideout of the artist/counterfeiter played by Willem Dafoe, who elsewhere in the script is suggested to have some expertise in international art. I thought there might be some secret meaning to it - it is interesting for spoiler reasons that the otherwise hyper-meticulous counterfeiter has made a sloppy copy of a Chinese character in this location!
posted by UncleBoomee at 7:44 AM on November 5, 2020

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