I’m willing to forgive occasional errors in subtitle translations. It’s a tedious job and mistakes happen, whatever. I see them, and it makes me sad and takes me out of the experience, but I move on. I’m not going to mention it in a review or dock points, because that would be mean. The sad truth is that an an imperfect translation is just kind of expected.
But that forgiveness can dry up pretty quick if those errors stop looking like a hard worker’s mistakes and start looking more like the work of a lazy intern who doesn’t know what language they’re working in. When nearly every single sentence has some kind of error, it goes from being unfortunate to completely unacceptable.
Hardcore Comedy‘s translation is unacceptable.
So here’s my proposal: hire me. Seriously. If you, as a distributor, look at your film and see that the subtitles are only marginally better than what Google Translate would have spit out, send me a message or an email or a tweet or whatever (various ways of contacting me can be found underneath that smiling face to the right of this paragraph) and let’s see if we can’t make it better. I’m serious.
I’ll let you think it over while I consider what it might be like if the subtitles in Hardcore Comedy were actually in English.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
Hardcore Comedy (重口味 )
Directors: Henri Wong, Chong Siu-wing, Law Yiu-fai
Country: Hong Kong
“What’s in a name?” Well, in the case of Hardcore Comedy, everything you need to know. It’s a comedy, and it’s hardcore (not as in penetrative sex, but not so far away). What the name doesn’t tell you is that it is yet another anthology film from Hong Kong (see Tales from the Dark), but its tone differentiates itself from most of the other films like it. From beginning to end, it’s a film that wants you to laugh. It doesn’t always succeed, but if you’re into sex humor it’ll hit more than it’ll miss.
The three stories all take place simultaneously, linked only by a 10 second long interaction featuring a pink car and stunning defiance of the laws of physics that takes place about two-thirds of the way through each story. It’s a funny scene, which is good, because it happens four different times from different perspectives, and once I realized that it was the closest thing the film has to some sort of overarching narrative framework, I started looking for details about how the next short might play into it. That was kind of fun, even if I had no idea.
The first short, “Shocking Wet Dreams,” is the one that wears the Hardcore Comedy name on its sleeve. Two stereotypically geeky looking “hackers,” refused housing by their school, take up residence in a local brothel. Prostitutes do their thing on the floor below, and the two students do their thing above. And yes, their thing does periodically involve thinking about what might be going on down below. Another non-prostitute lives on the second floor, a gorgeous girl who invites the boys over for dinner. Also, a dozen prostitutes are also invited, and things get awkward. Over time, things get better and the boys become more integrated into the social circle, but it isn’t a film about two losers having sex. It’s a lot weirder than that.
For the most part, I enjoyed it. It goes to some really stupid places… but it’s called “Shocking Wet Dreams.” I mean, really? Of course it does. If it was some treatise on the human condition, I probably would have bought popcorn just to throw at the screen. I turned off my brain (except for the part needed to retranslate the bad English) and allowed it to just happen. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing to watch in a crowded theater, but it was fun and it’s not that long. The best thing about an omnibus is that if something isn’t spectacular, it’s not a two hour thing to sit through. Before you know it, it’s over and the next short has begun.
“Run on Drugs” and its follow-up, “Can’t Stop the Killing,” have a bit of the craziness of “Shocking Wet Dreams,” but they’re really much more subdued. They also both have something closer to a narrative arc. “Run on Drugs” is a romantic comedy of sorts following a brand new drug-runner finding a girl who he’s trying to sell drugs to and then falling in love with her. “Can’t Stop the Killing” is about a guy who needs to pay back his debts to a very dangerous man, and he is given the option to pay up or go murder somebody. He chooses the latter. Both of them sound significantly more serious than they are, but their conceptual grounding helps to differentiate them both from the films that preceded them and also from other similar stories.
Without a doubt, “Run on Drugs” is the best of the three. The characters, performances, and comedy are all great, and I think it is also the only one that could have seen some expansion. I’m not saying it’s too short, but if the characters were to be revisited in a feature film down the line, I wouldn’t have any complaints. “Can’t Stop the Killing” is number two, mostly because it has an awesome ending but also because it’s just genuinely good. It doesn’t have to rely on sex like “Shocking Wet Dreams” does. And I liked “Shocking Wet Dreams,” but it hides a lot of narrative problems behind breasts. A perfectly legitimate tactic, and one that works, but it only works on a base level, where the other two have a bit more substance.
As a hardcore comedy, though, it is an extremely successful film. I laughed constantly, and I imagine that it’s even better in its native language (although maybe the script is actually terrible, and I’m too ignorant to know). So we return to the thing that kept me from truly loving Hardcore Comedy in the way I so desperately wanted to: the translation. From beginning to end, the subtitles were riddled with all kinds of spelling errors and general grammatical failings. I understand that it’s difficult to translate things, especially with the character limits imposed on the screen, but that doesn’t excuse such a terrible translation. The only film I can compare it to is The King of Pigs, which was completely ruined for me by its translation. The Hardcore Comedy one is only marginally better, but because it’s not going for serious drama, it’s not hurt quite as badly as The King of Pigs was.
I’m hoping that this was just a symptom of this being the film’s World Premiere (although you’d think they’d work extra hard to start things off on the right foot), and that by the time it reaches home media or Netflix or whatever the subtitling issues have been worked out. And it’s not like they can’t find someone to fix them. I’m totally serious. I will actually do it.
Anyways, if you can see Hardcore Comedy, I recommend doing so. It’s sexy (kind of), funny (certainly), and unique (unquestionably). There’s not much out there that’s like it, and that alone makes it worth checking out. Prepare to be distressed by the way it kills the English language, but when you aren’t thinking about how badly it reads, you’ll definitely be able to enjoy how well it plays.