Why is the dialogue in Squid Game so Offputting
October 4, 2021 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm waching the English dubbed version of Squid Game on Netflix, and the dialogue is distracting me because it is so offputting, and I can't figure out why.

Is it the translation from Korean to English itself, where it's not an easy correspondance, so it makes the dialogue sound to cheesy? Are they trying to Americanize it with our idioms that is making it sound so artificial? Is it just bad acting of the voice actors doing the lines? Is it that English is so different than Korean that the physicality of the face/jaw/lips is so different that it feels completely dubbed? Some combo of all of that?

I've watched other shows dubbed into English and it hasn't been so awkwardly offputting, and I can't figure out what it is.
posted by archimago to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The acting is usually not as good in voice over. Also I think they try to write the dubbed language script to correspond to the mouth movements of the original language (otherwise the illusion would completely break) and that leads to some very awkward phrasing in the dubbed language.
posted by grog at 2:22 PM on October 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

This video/twitter thread was just linked in the Squid Game fanfare thread.
posted by phunniemee at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Myself - I typically watch everything with subtitles and english audio - however - I typically find that if it is a non-US/Canadian/UK movie or show, originally filmed in another language - I have to pick one or the other.

Otherwise - there are differences between what is spoken audibly - and the subtitle - and that drives me nuts.

The other factor I have always found - is that the choice of voice-actors found to do the english parts somehow seem to go completely against what I *feel* that actor should sound like.

So - for Squid Game, it was original Korean audio, with English subtitles - and I binged that so hard. (Currently working on Black Spot)
posted by rozcakj at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2021

I watched it with subtitles, but how does the dubbed language for most characters compare with the dialog of the VIPs towards the end of the series? I found their dialog offputting as well, in terms of usage and acting - but given the situation that might be an intentional choice. But, Front Man's use of English seemed a lot more normal to me than theirs.
posted by LionIndex at 2:27 PM on October 4, 2021

IMO they used really cartoony voices for everyone so everything sounds cheesier than it is. Especially gangster lady and the old guy.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:33 PM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I watched with subtitles, but I have seen criticism of both the translation and the voice acting, so I suspect it's a little of both.
posted by the primroses were over at 2:56 PM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

There is a strong “Badly dubbed 90s Anime” flavour to Squid Game’s dub that I’m finding enjoyably nostalgic, but it’s definitely bad. I think trying to lip/time match is definitely a factor, the masked dialog seems better.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2021

I found the same with Squid Game. It just seemed weirdly timed and cheesy. I switched to the original Korean audio with subtitles and it worked better for me after that.
posted by Malleable at 6:21 PM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

1. The translation is brutal.
I stopped watching at basically the third line of dialogue, which was a person calling out to the game warden pink people, "You're all wearing masks - why are you wearing those things?" It was delivered in an American accent, this repeated-noun sentence construction that no American would ever compose. (I will watch it eventually but I wasn't in the head space to overlook that dialogue, so I'll read subtitles instead). It would have been way better if the people had spoken English with a Korean accent or something. If you're gonna sound American, you should at least try to sound American!

2. The acting is weak because dubbing is hard.
I've worked as an actor so I've done ADR and it's HARD! ADR is "automated dialogue replacement". (I don't know why it's called automated when it's a human actor who does it). It has to happen if some kind of background noise like a passing plane or a squeaky leather jacket or the actor's own loud footsteps ruined the audio the day you shot the scene. ADR is like dubbing your own performance. So as the actor, you're alone in a dark studio with giant headphones on, staring at yourself on a huge TV, with a karaoke-ball graphic crossing the screen to help you time your lines and trying desperately to match the same lip flap and emotions and volume as you had on set- also without being able to move your body, because you have to stay a consistent distance from the microphone. Even matching your own performance is super hard. So for these voice actors who dubbed the movie - they had to match the intensity and timing of a stranger's performance? In a language they don't speak? Where sentence cadence and the placement of the most-stressed words in a sentence might not time out the same? Getting the timing, volume, intensity, breathing, etc, to match what that actor organically created in a much richer environment? IT'S VERY HARD. It's so precise that it's almost like singing / dancing, more than it's like acting. A skill set in and of itself, totally separate from acting.

3. The sound recording isn't quite right.
The microphone+studio sound of an actor doing ARD or dubbing can never quite match the location sound, because the voice booth acoustics are wrong. I can often pick out the ADR lines when I watch TV. They just sound kind of smushed and wrong. Sound really affects our enjoyment of film/tv in an imperceptible but really important way. We don't have good language for it but we feel it. So dubbed dialogue ends up just sounding fake, and disconnected from the visual environment, even if only in a very subtle way. Our ears can catch that fakeness - and it just undermines of the truth of the scene.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:48 PM on October 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

There is a strong “Badly dubbed 90s Anime” flavour to Squid Game’s dub that I’m finding enjoyably nostalgic, but it’s definitely bad.

For reasons not pertinent here, we needed to watch Squid Game with dubbing instead of our preferred subtitles, and the realisation that Jon Mitchell had above resonates. Once we started thinking of it as a cartoon instead of live action, it made the pain of this particular dubbing job recede.

Personally I think it's mostly to do with nouvelle-personne's third reason; the recorded voices have no "room quality" to them, so the voice of a character yelling in the pouring rain is somehow equally reverberant as another whispering in a small room. Not that I'm arguing for Christopher Nolan's insane concept of sound realism, but there's an extra step missing here that leaves everyone sounding perfectly studio flat and therefore extra-fake. The cheesy approach to the reading doesn't help.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 5:54 AM on October 5, 2021

This is a bit of a tangent to your original question, but I saw this pop up on Twitter and wanted to mention it here. If you watch it in the original Korean with subtitles, double check the settings to make sure you have the English subtitles selected rather than the English [CC] subtitles. Apparently the English subtitles are supposed to be a far more accurate translation than the English [CC] ones, although I'm not sure why.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:39 AM on October 5, 2021

helloimjennsco, it's because the English closed captioning is a direct transcription of the English dub (along with all the other sound effects/music descriptions/etc), with all of its attendant issues as discussed above. The English subs are an actual attempt at translating from the original Korean dialogue. This is discussed in the Twitter thread linked above by phunniemee, although you have to wade through a fair bit of posts to get to the meat of it.
posted by catch as catch can at 1:49 AM on October 6, 2021

I watched a bit more of it with the dub (ugh) and figured out a huge problem: The AGE is wrong! The dub actors sound like they're in their mid-20s, while the lead characters are in their mid-late 40s. (Plus the dub actors sound really white.) Like the voice actor for Gi-Hun sounds like his name should be Chad!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:44 PM on October 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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