Read any good movies lately?

Do you ever watch foreign films or TV with subtitles?

Until a little more than a year ago I always said I don’t want to read a movie. I want to watch the scenery and the faces of the actors. And, I’ve always wondered what I was missing when a long piece of dialogue spoken in a foreign language is boiled down to just a short sentence or a few words. A character in the show may rattle off a three minute soliloquy but the caption at the bottom of the screen simply reads, “I agree” or “Right on, dude!”

Actual screenshot of my TV with captioning on. This character in a story set 300 years ago is calling someone “a dork”.

Sometimes the translators who write the captions don’t really have a handle on American English, especially slang and cultural references that don’t suit the time period of the movie.

These things always bugged me until last year when my wife, the lovely and feisty CarolAnn Williams, turned me on to Korean TV.

I don’t remember how she came across the TV channel, Dramafever. She’s not Korean. She doesn’t have any Korean relatives or friends and has never been to that part of the world but Korean TV shows have no sex, violence or bad language. The comedies are whimsical to the point of innocent absurdity and the dramas are skillfully produced with quirky plot twists. CarolAnn loves them. It’s practically all she watches. And now I watch them with her.

Together we enjoy the many Korean historical dramas of the Joseon dynasty which dates back to 1392. These are tales based upon real kings and queens who lived three or four hundred years ago, of battling royal consorts and political factions plotting to grab power. Wars are waged with swords and arrows; fights involve a lot of shouting and flashy martial arts, our heroes flipping high in the air for no apparent reason before they kick three guys at once.

(In Korean historical dramas once you’ve been kicked to the ground you’re out of the fight, the same as dead.)

I looked them up: “Comminate” – To threaten with vengeance. “Scapegrace” – A mischievous rascal. (These days we’d probably say, “asshole”.)

The plots are engaging, the acting is generally excellent and the costumes are colorful and fun.

Best of all, those subtitles are sometimes hilarious. And sometimes they actually expand our English vocabulary.

And along the way we’ve learned a Korean word or two. For example:

“Pyeha, paliga yeollyeo issseubnida!”

Which means, “Your majesty, your fly is open!”

Author: Dave

Dave Williams is a radio news/talk personality originally from Sacramento, now living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Carolann. They have two sons and grandsons living in L.A.

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