On Translation of English and Chinese Movie Titles
Nida says : “Translation consists in the reproduction in the receptor language of
the message of the source language in such a way that the receptors in receptor
language may be able to understand adequately how the original receptors of the
source language understand the original message” (刘宓庆，2003：41). Title is the
most informative part of a film. A successful translation of it can guide receptors to
the threshold of the original message. How can this success be achieved? Besides Mr.
Lin Yutang‟s criteria, “faithfulness, fluency, and beautifulness”, which are developed
from Mr. Yan Fu‟s “faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance” (马会娟，2003：28).
As an audiovisual art, film is one of the most influential mass media, it follows and
reflects people‟s life and it is a product of culture. The film title, being short in form
but rich in meaning, has its own cultural, linguistic, aesthetic features. A properly
translated movie title should be concise, condensed and compact, which can grip the
attention of the audience at their first sight and stimulate their association with the
plot, reveal the theme or offer some clue. So they deserve careful investigation and
consideration from the translator. However, as a branch of non-literary translation, it
has not yet received due attention despite their importance.
Hence, this paper will discuss the present situation of film title‟s translation,
then set out two methods of translation, and a set of principles followed by the
translation, then sum up film title‟s translation should be combined with the
translation practice, and continually improve in the practice. How to translate a film
title into the target language successful?
Ⅱ The present situation of film title’s translation
The introduction of foreign films plays an important role in promoting cultural
exchanges, and enriching people‟s leisure time. But currently, the film title translation
remains a problematic issue. As to the same title, it often has several different
translations for one English film title. The Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
versions can hardly achieve unity in most cases, which makes confusion and
inconvenience for the audience.
2.1 Versions of the translation of movie titles in Mainland, Hong Kong and
Due to the historical and social reasons, educational level, knowledge structure
and cultural background, the same film has different translated names, and the
translation chaotic phenomena are very prominent. For example, an American film
Ghost is translated into 《幽灵》or 《鬼魂》in Mainland, 《人鬼情未了》in Hong
Kong, and 《第六生死恋》in Taiwan. Another film Pretty Woman is translated into
《漂亮女人》in mainland, 《风月俏佳人》 in Hong Kong, 《麻雀变凤凰》 in
2.2 Different translated names of the same English film on poster advertising and
The lack of unified management and coordination agency, the film‟s translated
titles on television or on poster advertising media fragmentation, do use standard
uniform translation, all do have helped direct role in the phenomena of the translated
names varies. For example, Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs is translated
into 《沉默的羔羊》in many kinds of newspapers of mainland, but used other names
such as 《羔羊的沉默》in many film magazines.
This chaos of translated versions not only makes the audience confused but also
brings the avoidable man-made barriers to the movie cultural communication among
the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Generally speaking, mainland translators are more loyal to the original titles
(literal translation), while the Hong Kong counterparts are more rebellious, more
often resort to trans-creation (free translation).
Ⅲ. Methods of Movie Title Translation
Techniques of movie title translation mainly fall into two categories: literal
translation, free translation. No matter what technique is employed, one fundamental
and vital principle that should never be forgotten is that the translation must be related
to the story in one way or another.
3. 1 Literal translation
Literal translation is frequently used in film title translation. By converting the
source language grammatical constructions to their nearest target language
equivalents, literal translation can preserve both the content and originality in most
cases. In occasions when a title matches the story of a movie perfectly--- Saving
Private Ryan, Around the World in 80 Days, and if the target language is similar---
《拯救大兵瑞恩》，《环游世界八十天》 not sounding awkward or unnatural, are
capable of describing the story, literal translation can be adopted. As most English
movie titles consist of nouns or noun phrases, literal translation is the simplest and
most effective technique used in movie title translation. Most descriptive titles, such
as a Beauty and the Beast 《美女与野兽》 Gladiator 《角斗士》 The Butterfly Effect
《蝴蝶效应》, Rambo: First Blood 《第一滴血》, Schindler‟s List 《辛德勒的名
单》, Anna and The King 《安娜与国王》, Roman Holiday《罗马假日》, The Age of
Innocence 《纯真年代》, The Shawshank Redemption 《肖申克的救赎》, Sleepless
in Seattle 《西雅图未眠》,and so on.
And the translation of Chinese film titles such as 《向左走，向右走》,《新警
的日子》are “Turn left, Turn right”, “New Police Story”, “Genghis Khan”, “ke ke xi
li”, “If·Love”, “Nuan”, “Cell Phone”, “The Days Under the Bright Sunshine” .
These are the successful literal translation of film titles. And the literal translations of
film titles listed above are more close to the original titles in the forms, meaning,
information, and so on. Take 《如果·爱》as an example, its literal translation is
“If·Love”. This original film title which uses literal translation itself to express the
most beautiful mood of the film theme. It indeed need not be considered and designed
again by the translators. „If‟, this literal meaning of this film title can get the
maximum effect to give hypothesis and at the same time, it arouses people‟s
imagination. The literal translation of this film title just reaches the best result of
translation. Another example of these Chinese film titles is 《成吉思汗》 “Genghis
Khan”. The foreign people are getting to know more and more about Chinese culture
and history with the communication of two countries. And they have plentiful
knowledge to understand the literal meaning of this film title. It is no need to make a
note to explain it.
3.2 Free translation.
To some titles, especially some allusive ones, whose literal translation cannot
describe the story exactly and fail to provide information and attract the audience,
more details have to be added to make them more explicit. Instead of being chosen
randomly, these details should be based on the story and able to help clarify the titles.
For example, Top Gun《壮志凌云》, it would be translated into 《最好的枪》, if the
translator does not know that it is the code name of American Navy‟s prestigious.
Actually, the movie praises the school‟s spirit---a high premium placed on the pilots‟
will. Thus, 《壮志凌云》is no doubt the best choice. Similar instances are: Oliver
Twist 《雾都孤儿》, Sister Act 《修女也疯狂》, Mission: Impossible 《碟中谍》,
Charles‟ Angel 《霹雳娇娃》 Armageddon 《绝世天劫》
, (This word come from Bible,
means end of the day, good and evil decisive battlefield), War 《游侠》.
There are other instances of Chinese film titles, which are translated very well.
The 《十面埋伏》 is translated into “House of Flying Daggers”, 《霸王别姬》 into
“Farewell my Concubine”, 《江湖》into “Brother”, 《花样年华》into “In the Mood
for Love”, 《唐伯虎点秋香》into “Flirting scholar”, 《海上花》 into “Flowers of
Shanghai”, 《无间道》 “Infernal Affairs”. We can see that free translation of these
film titles is encouraging.
You wouldn‟t hope to see a film which is mindless to be called, “All men are
brothers: blood of the leopard”（《四海之内皆兄弟: 豹子的血》 is in fact 《水浒
传》）. You couldn‟t believe such a graceful and historical title is spoilt deadly. How
fun it is! For instance, the following film titles “Ashes of Times” （《时间的灰烬》,
《东邪西毒》 , “Third Sister Liu” 《第三个姐姐刘》 刘三姐》 , “Royal Tramp”
） （ 《
《皇家流浪汉》 鹿鼎记》 People can see that free translations of these film titles
are better than the first ones, which use the literal translation. The former ones of
these examples are so funny to the public. Take the translation of “Third Sister Liu”
as an example. The foreign translators are not familiar with this historical figure in
China. So they naturally translate it into literal translation. No one likes the ugly
things, which they escape from them just like getting away from the plague. So
making the ugly things beautiful is saving people‟s souls.
But the fact isn‟t neglected that some film titles use free translation to have the
opposite effect. A film called “Moulin Rouge”, which was shown on the year 2001. It
is translated in free translation 《梦断花都》 when it was introduced to China. The
translation of this film title discards the meaning of the original film title and ignores
the foreign culture. At the same time, the translators who translated this film
underestimate the audiences‟ plane of understanding the foreign culture. We should
translate it into《红磨坊》，which thus appeals to people who want to further know
about the background of this film. The free translation 《梦断花都》 is not so
The last example here related to the literal translation. Can people just use free
translation when translating the film titles and ignoring the literal meaning of film
titles, which might transmit the information of original meaning?
Ⅳ.Discussion on the literal and free translation of film title
Literal translation and free translation are two main forms of translation. Literal
translation has its own merits and weaknesses. On one hand, this method is quite
simple, feasible and effective. Such title can be translation into Chinese with no
hesitation. On the other hand, all the factors such as ambiguity, incompatibility
between the form of the version and the original content, cultural elements involved
call for other translation methods, otherwise the basic functions will not be fulfilled
completely. The free translation concerns much about the content of the film and the
spirit of the title, which gives space for the translators‟ creativity. The audience will
not only be better informed, but also have great interest in watching the films.
However, the proper free translation should be separated from “random translation”,
because the former aims at maintaining and better expressing the original meaning,
but the latter is subjective and irresponsible to the original title and the film.
The literal translation is usually loyal to the original titles of the films. The
translators usually adopted this method to translate for its „faithfulness‟. But this
method is always considered unwisely in the field of translation if the translator does
not take into consideration the content of the film. Hence, the methods of combining
the literal translation and the free translation appropriately are better than any of the
two. For instance, “Mrs. Doubtfire” is about a man who disguised himself as an old
fat lady to serve at his former wife‟s house. He just wants to see his children everyday.
This film title is translated into 《肥妈先生》. Mrs. embodies the man‟s gender
opposite which is translated into literary in this film, while Doubtfire isn‟t just
translated into literary „道伯特菲尔德‟. The translator was so clever to embody his
characteristic in this film and translated it into free translation. This perfect
combination gives us a deep impression to this film. It is a good example of the
combination of the literal and free translation. There are other successful combining
translations of film titles, such as E·T is translated into 《E·T 外星人》 Shot First into
《先发制人》, The Opposite of Sex into 《异性不相吸》, The Three Musketeers into
《豪侠三剑客》 She is So Lovely into 《可人儿》 The translation of these film titles
were changed which based on the adjustment of the orders of the original titles when
they were translated into Chinese, like The Opposite of Sex into 异性不相吸》 Or the .
translators add some words according to the desire of the Chinese audiences, like
“E·T” 《E·T 外星人》, adding „外星人‟ in it. People can not wait to know about the
film. Or they use fewer words to than the original titles, like She is So Lovely 《可人
儿》. This change prevents the translation of film titles from being too plain to be
Ⅴ. Some notions on the translation of film titles
A film title is of the same importance to the film as the face to a person. If the
face you see is beautiful that your impression of him or her will be good, too. So the
designers of the film titles—the translators bear a load to satisfy different layers of
different audiences. Good translation embodies a culture, which makes people.
Whereas, the audiences as the receivers of the film titles will become the right
respond to the translations of the film titles. Both of them are important to the
translations of the film titles.
5.1Translator as a dispenser role on the translation of film titles
The translation can not be done without the translators‟ hard working. For this
reason, on the translation of film titles, translators simplify the translation to achieve
briefness. It is also a kind of creating while the translators are doing the translation
work. As for the same film title different translators have different translations,
because they have their own thought and experience. They translate the titles
according to their own understanding. So that‟s the reason why we say that the
translators bear a load to satisfy different layers of different audiences.
Due to these reasons, it is sure that these translators have a chance to sit
together and discuss the future development of the film titles. Now there aren‟t people
who get a whole system as the principles of the film titles‟ translation.
5.2 Audience as an acceptor role on the translation of film titles
Film titles are restricted by the original titles. Since films are shot for the
audience, it is necessary to motivate the audience‟s interests. However, once the
audience do not possess any historical knowledge or literary cultivation, the
translations of these film titles will lose their value of existence.
The translations of the film titles are better to be both refined and popular tastes.
And it‟s also important that the audiences would be active to accept the foreign
culture. In the views of the audience, the translations of the film titles appear that
there aren‟t any principles to obey.
The translation of the film titles is a special process of re-creation. It isn‟t simple
to obey the content and the forms of the original titles, but a hard exploration to the
film themes, social problems, the ethnic association and national condition. So finding
the balance between literal translation and free translation is rational to the translation
of film titles. Owing to the diversities of the west and the east, the westerners‟
opinions towards the translation are naturally different from the easterners. We
wouldn‟t only see a part of the film and rush into translating it into literal translation
or free translation. This act is irresponsible. Translation is also a process of cultural
communication owing to the differences of the principles of the translation, the
linguistic customs of the foreign countries and the characteristics of the film titles.
That is not only to the audience, but also to the translators themselves. Translators
should make every effort to benefit the entertainment culture of the public and thus to
benefit the translations of film titles. After all, the purpose of the film is to satisfy the
Different film titles require different translation methods. People should take all
factors into consideration. In all, there are many challenges for us to translate the film
titles, thus we should combine the practice of using translation methods. If we master
the trick of the translation of film titles, everything becomes easy.
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