Could you imagine watching a film in a language that isn’t your mother tongue? When screening feature films, most countries either use dubbing or subtitling to make sure the film is actually understood by its viewers. In China, this is not the case; English films that are shown in Chinese cinemas are often screened in their original format without any subtitles.
Even though China is still a communist country, the government does allow certain Western films to be featured in Chinese cinemas. Even though dubbed versions are shown during days, most screenings are in English.
However, more and more Chinese ask for these films to be dubbed into their mother tongue. According to Yang Heping, director of the dubbing centre at China Film Group Corp., dubbing is such a minor phenomenon in China because of “financial and talent problems” the practice has faced in the last few years.
The undervalued position of dubbing is a fairly recent development: in fact, it was such a widespread practice in the mid-eighties that this period was called the “Golden Age” of Chinese dubbed films. During this time, the country opened up to the Western world and all of the films that were imported from abroad were dubbed into Chinese. Because of this, foreign actors gained recognition in the communist country, but the voice actors who dubbed the film were put into the spotlights as well.
As the years went by, China strengthened its relation with the western world. This meant even more foreign films were imported to the country. One would say this would mean even more dubbed films, but the opposite was actually the case. The voice actors, who dubbed in a highly stylized way, did not appeal to the younger generation, which resulted in a change in the dubbing world. According to Shi Chuan, a doctoral advisor at the School of Film & TV Arts and Technology at Shanghai University, “Voice-overs … transformed from a sort of performance art into a bridge that crosses the language barrier.” This lower quality can also be attributed to the fact that dubbing companies now have about a week to dub an entire feature film, while they used to have a few months to finish the job.
Even though the Chinese dubbing market seems bad, the dubbing and subtitling of Chinese films to other languages is even worse. As China has no programme to oversee these practices, errors occur all too often. As subtitling or dubbing a film costs quite a lot of money, Yang believes the Chinese government should chip in a little. This would also increase the quality of dubbed TV shows and cartoons, as these are now often dubbed by amateur voice actors. Jiang Jing, marketing manager at the only state-owned dubbing company Shanghai Dubbing Studio, believes that regulations must be drawn up to protect and expand the Chinese dubbing industry. After all, a film on a fun night out is best enjoyed when it’s understood completely.
Did you know Kwintessential provide dubbing, voice-overs and subtitling?
by Elise Kuip