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October 24, 2007 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Has a film ever told a completely different story in its subtitles compared to the audio track?

It would be a prank, but a clever one to pull off: the audio has the "real" plot, while the subtitles graft another plot onto the visuals. Two movies in one.

The closest thing I've seen is Mad Movies in the '80s, where new lines were dubbed over old movies, and some bad subtitling that drifted from the plot.
posted by kurumi to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The DVD version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a subtitle track that consists of Shakespeare quotes which are only occasionally relevant.
posted by danb at 6:17 PM on October 24, 2007

What's Up Tiger Lily? is an earlier version of dubbing over an old movie with a new, unrelated plot.

I'm sure I've seen the comedy subtitle-doesn't-match-action-onscreen gag, but as a short section of a longer movie, not as the whole movie. And of course I can't remember where, now.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:20 PM on October 24, 2007

I have heard that the English subtitles for "The Passion of the Christ" removed much of the inflammatory and racist dialog spoken by the actors in Aramaic.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:23 PM on October 24, 2007

The Chinese subtitles on pirate DVDs of Western films seem often to have been written ad-lib by the teen cousin of the pirater who gets high marks in English class and so was deemed up to the job. The tendency is to reduce anything to one of a few stock plots (action/romance etc) tht can be made to vguely fit the visuals, regardless of what's actuallybeing said.
As a deliberate device, I've seen it done as a person's real thoughts in subtitle while they maintained a public front withe their spoken dialogue, but can't recall the exact show - UK TV comedy I think.
posted by Abiezer at 6:24 PM on October 24, 2007

I had a Spanish teacher from Puerto Rico. She used to work as a subtitle transcriptionist when she was in college because she was English/Spanish bilingual. Her anecdote about the experience was that on her first day she was transcribing in real time (closed captioning I guess?) and couldn't keep up. When she asked her supervisor what to do, how to improve her speed she was told to just "make it up." She seemed to have remained amused and confounded about that for years, and she was also instructed to do this for tele-novelas and other television shows.

So, I can't speak to movies specifically, but for television, at least in some instances the answer has been yes.
posted by bilabial at 6:30 PM on October 24, 2007

The first "Card Captor Sakura" movie comes pretty close.

Some history: the CCS series was 70 episodes in Japan. It got licensed for the American market for TV syndication, but the American distributor decided that they didn't like the original story and wanted to change most of it. So they reedited the series and changed the characters. They played up the competition between Sakura and Shaoran. Sweet (and creepy) Tomoyo was renamed "Madison" and they made her a snotty valley girl.

It was a real abortion. But that was the only authorized dub version available in R1 for a long time.

Eventually Geneon bought the rights to distribute a subtitle-only version for R1. They distributed all 70 original episodes, unchanged, and translated them honestly.

Geneon also got the rights to the movie, which fits into the continuity about 40% along the way. But what were they to do about the two different continuities? Turns out they decided to split the difference.

So the English dub of the movie is consistent with "Card Captors", and the Japanese version (and subtitles translating that one) stay true to the original series. They didn't reedit the ovie for the dub, but the dialogue is so much different as to really radically change the story being told.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:31 PM on October 24, 2007

It was a real abortion.?
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:33 PM on October 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

Well, I don't know if it's exactly what you're talking about, but the first issue of Wholphin had a Turkish sitcom called Tatli Hayat, "rescripted" by Jack Pendarvis, Brian Reich, Rodney Rothman, A.G. Pasquella and Brian Evenson. I didn't actually watch all the versions, but the audio track stays the same while the rescripted subtitles are shown. I don't have the actual DVD with me, but I think each version was the entire episode.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 6:34 PM on October 24, 2007

I have a vague recollection of a kung fu movie which was released in the US with a really weird dub. This was actually a major release, too, in theaters and everything. But I can't remember the name. (Maybe it was this one?)

The North American versions of the first couple of Godzilla movies (Raymond Burr!) were edited together out of a mixture of footage taken from the Japanese originals plus new footage shot in the US (Raymond Burr!). I think that the Japanese sequences were effectively changed quite a lot in order to make them fit the American-filmed versions.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:35 PM on October 24, 2007

From what I've heard, lots of Hindi and other Indian films are pretty reckless with subtitles (which is strange, considering the high level of English fluency in India due to English being the official language of the country).

But I think what you're asking is whether someone has done such a thing purposely and for effect. Wish I could say I knew of such a film.

I've always wanted to do a film with dialog in a made-up (but convincingly foreign-sounding) language, with regular English subtitles. Just to see how it affected the moment-by-moment experience-- forcing the film to be "foreign" in a certain way.

But after hearing kurumi's idea, I think I'd rather try that instead!

posted by Rykey at 6:43 PM on October 24, 2007

"Kung Pow" is the movie I was thinking of. James Berardinelli describes it:
Arguably, the most clever aspect of the movie is its use of the 1977 film Tiger and Crane Fist (a.k.a. Savage Killers) as the backdrop for Kung Pow's "action". Using digital effects techniques, Oedekerk inserts himself seamlessly into scenes from the earlier feature, making it appear as if he's interacting with the characters in Tiger and Crane Fist.
By the way, he also says that it stunk.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:44 PM on October 24, 2007

It's certainly not of the scope about which you're asking but The Pillow Book does play with the subtitles a little. According to the IMDB trivia section:
Much of the film is in Japanese, and some of the English subtitles appear to be intentionally incorrect or missing, in the spirit of "language play" or "the Tower of Babel". (Confirmed by director Peter Greenaway at a talk at the San Francisco Film Festival.)

Similarly, the nominally French lyrics (and subtitles) of the lovers' theme ("Parfait Mélange") are actually somewhat "fractured French"
posted by yz at 7:02 PM on October 24, 2007

This probably gets used for various comedic effects. In addition to the examples above, in a college anime group I once saw a "funsub"—some no-name anime with fan-provided subtitles meant to parody the conventions of the genre and so on. ("Attention citizens of Tokyo! The city is being invaded by a giant monster! Please try to act like this doesn't happen every day and flee in terror." Something like that.)

There's also some Hollywood film I caught glimpses of where one of the actors speaks in a thick Welsh (IIRC) accent. Then on the DVD there are subtitles to help you understand what he's saying. The fact that they even exist is kind of funny. The fact that they sometimes say "?????" is funnier.
posted by brett at 7:04 PM on October 24, 2007

LobsterMitten: "abortion" 9.a: a shambles, a mess
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:13 PM on October 24, 2007

"The Brothers and the Ring" as dubbed by Goblin is more popular in Russian than Peter Jackson's version. Not quite subtitles, but I'm pretty sure the majority of the audience is familiar with the books and the original film.
posted by whimwit at 7:15 PM on October 24, 2007

Dangnabbit, I was going to chime in with Monty Python, too.

It's nowhere near as extreme, but Nikita's subtitles (either the English or French ones, I honestly can't remember) change details from no reason. 8 becomes 9. One road becomes another. I have no idea why, but it takes me out of the movie everytime.

A quick google found this one. I'm now interested in horribly subtitled movies. Thanks, kurumi, for giving me another way to procrastinate, heh.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:36 PM on October 24, 2007

Happens all the time in bootleg copies. My friend travels to Korea a lot and watches bootleg copies of Hong Kong and American DVDs he gets there. Half the time the subtitles don't even fit on the screen.

He showed me his copy of Battle Royale and the subtitles made it a "the world is overpopulated so children are sent to kill themselves off to help control population" movie.

In the netflix copy I watched, the movie was an "adults think children and youthful ideas are weak" movie.

They were both entertaining translations and truthfully I don't know which version was absolutely correct.
posted by M Edward at 8:00 PM on October 24, 2007

Yeah, on the anime front there are multitude of "haha-funny" type subs released on purpose. They are like the anime version of MST3K. Somehow I don't think this counts towards the Original Question.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:19 PM on October 24, 2007

In Kung Pow, Odekirk's character is 'dubbed' saying one line when he was actually filmed saying something entirely different. Apparently on the DVD there is an extra audio track that lets you hear what he's really saying throughout the movie.
posted by neckro23 at 8:38 PM on October 24, 2007

Along the lines of Card Captor Sakura, the English dub of Samurai Pizza Cats turned the show into a completely different story (and even poked fun at the fact that it was translated from time to time.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:06 PM on October 24, 2007

The BBC imported the French program Le Manège enchanté and showed it as The Magic Roundabout with character voices and narration by Eric Thompson (the father of Emma Thompson) which he wrote himself to fit the visuals but wasn't based on the original scripts at all.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:01 AM on October 25, 2007

It's a bit of a genre on YouTube.
posted by flabdablet at 5:00 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

And of course there's always J-Men Forever, which isn't quite what you're asking about but has the same kind of feel.
posted by flabdablet at 5:08 AM on October 25, 2007

La dialectique peut-elle casser des briques?.
A hilarious situationist comedy
The story line is simple: a classic kung-fu movie has simply had the entire dialogue changed to represent the epic battle between the proletariat and the bureaucracy, with a martial arts school as the utopian commune. That idea alone is comic genius, and as if the idea wasn't funny enough, the writing is hilarious. For example, when a little girl runs away from her little boy friend, one of his friends comforts him and says something to the effect of, "Please forgive her for being a Marxist, she just doesn't know better."
posted by bru at 6:09 AM on October 25, 2007

I have a Chinese copy of The Cannonball Run and I think it's as Abiezier stated above... much of the dialogue is re-written entirely (Dom Deluise's character is called Fatso) and on the whole it was something of an improvement.
posted by codger at 8:07 PM on October 27, 2007

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