South Korea in the Perspective of a Filipino Expatriate

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dissecting a Translation Joke From the Movie OKJA


OKJA is an interesting movie in so many ways. It’s a crossover between a Hollywood and Korean movie, but for me, it’s more of a Korean movie because some of the main characters are Korean and the director is Bong Joon-ho, a Korean national. The premise of the movie is quite conventional in some aspect, a teen Korean girl named Mija (played by An Seo Hyun) who has been a constant companion and a caretaker of a gentle giant super pig named OKJA for 10 long years sets out to rescue her giant friend from the image obsessed CEO of Mirando Corporation who took over OKJA for their own promotion and business.
The appearance of OKJA as a super pig, who doesn’t even resemble to that of a pig, is a big plus as it offers something new to the eyes of the audience. The director Bong Joon-ho has virtually toured us into different locations. From the mountains of South Korea, to the underground market of Seoul, and the small alleys of villages and Han River, up to New York, this movie keeps moving us from one location to another in a fast pace without losing its focus on the actual event. Aside from the filming locations, the use of the actual language is also on point as it did not force Americans to speak Korean, and Koreans to speak English.
However, one interesting thing that happened in this movie is the translation joke that only people who can speak both English and Korean can understand. It’s similar to that binary joke that only IT people can understand, but this time, it’s all about translation. This could be a little bit of a spoiler but I have to say this in order for you to understand the joke.
In one particular scene, Mija rescued Okja from Mirando Corporation through the help of this chaotic animal lover advocates called “Animal Liberation Front”.  But the ALF has another plan, they want to use Okja as their mole at the Mirando laboratory by hacking Okja’s tracking device and return her to Mirando Corporation, but they will only do this with Mija’s consent. Due to her lack of ability to speak English, a Korean guy named K, played by Steven Yeun, stands as the translator between Mija and ALF’s team leader Jay. He asked Mija if it’s ok for her to use Okja to spy on the Mirando Corporation, Mija answered in Korean and she said that she just want to bring home Okja to the mountains of South Korea.
But K, desperate to pursue the mission, lied on his translation. He said that Mija agreed to Jay’s proposal which in turn amused the ALFs team members.

They jumped off the vehicle to Han River before the police came to catch them. Before jumping off, K said something to Mija in Korean.  The actual sentence in Korean is this:
미자야. 그리고 제 이름은 “Koo Soon-bum”.
Translation: Mija! Also,  my name is Koo Soon-bum
But the subtitle says otherwise:
The subtitle is a wink wink for all those who can speak both Korean and English. But for me, it’s also a message for English viewers who can’t speak Korean and Korean viewers who can’t speak English. English speakers may laugh at the subtitle because learning English doesn’t always mean opportunity as what non English Asian countries perceived it. For Korean viewers, the fact that the name Koo Soon-bum was mentioned is already a comic relief as this name is often translated as a dumb name in Korea.
I guess the beauty of Okja does not only lie on the premise of the movie but also the fact that you can actually appreciate this more when you view it in a multicultural lens.

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