Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
Q. As part of my efforts as a morning show host out here, I stumbled across this from the ABC newsroom. It's the translation of American films in Hong Kong. Some actual English subtitles: "I am damn unsatisfied to be killed in this way." "A normal person wouldn't steal pituitaries." "This will be of fine service for you, you bag of the scum. I am sure you will not mind that I remove your manhoods and leave them out on the dessert flour for your aunts to eat." "Take my advice, or I will spank you without pants." "Yah-hah, evil spider woman! I have captured you by the short rabbits, and can now deliver you violently to your gynecologist for a thorough extermination!" "Beat him out of recognizable shape!" "How can you use my intestines as a gift?" "Greetings, large black person. Let us not forget to form a team up together and go into the country to inflict the pain of our karate feets on some ass of the giant lizard person!" (Bruce Maiman, Monterey, CA)
A. This list has been circulating on the net, and on reading it I was convinced it was phony. It's just "too good." Through Norman Wang, an expert on Asian films, I got an authoritative opinion from Shu Kei, the Hong Kong-based writer ("Temptress Moon") and director ("Queer Story"," "Stage Door"). While not judging the authenticity of these example, he writes: "Ninety-nine percent of the English subtitles of HK films are translated and done in HK. They are usually translated by the Subtitling Companies (there are only three) who hire inept translators or ask their sons to do the job. Production companies or directors almost never check the translators--actually almost no one cares. Worse still, the translators just listen to an audio tape of the soundtrack and never watch the film so most of the time they are just guessing at the meaning of the dialogue."
Q. My friend Nina Hartley appeared in a small part in "Boogie Nights." I was very surprised not to see any mention of Nina in New Line's publicity and press materials for the film. Nina is so smart and articulate she would make a great spokesperson. Plus she would be able to attest to the authenticity of the "scene" the movie explores. It would seem that they should be capitalizing on having a real-life porn star in their film, which is about the porn industry. Could it be that New Line wanted to distance themselves from the real porn industry? That would be so hypocritical given the film's subject. (Dorna Khazeni, San Francisco)
A. Hartley plays the wife of the William H. Macy character, and has one of the best lines in the movie: "You're embarrassing me!" It's possible the studio's snub of Hartley is part of a strategy to downplay the movie's subject matter; the ads dance all around it.
Q. Saw "Gattaca" and found it very thought-provoking. But either they never said or I missed it: What does Gattaca mean? (Emerson Thorne, Chicago)
A. Variety film critic Emanuel Levy says the title is inspired by the four key chemicals in DNA: Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cystosine.
Q. When I cut myself shaving, the blood comes out bright red. However, in movies, when somebody is bleeding, the blood usually a dark purple. I have never seen anybody bleed that color in real life, although I have never seen an actual gunshot wound. Why do movies use that color? Does red look too fake? I recall from high school biology that blood turns the brighter color upon contact with oxygen, such as in the atmosphere. (Steven Stine, Buffalo Grove)
A. I asked Dr. Robert Kushner, of the University of Chicago Center for Advanced Medicine, who replies: "Arterial blood (pulsating arteries) is bright red because it carries oxygen from the heart and lungs to the rest of the body. Venous blood is darker red, almost purple, because it returns oxygen-drained blood back to the heart and lungs. So, a cut through an arm vein will look dark red and ooze out, while a severed artery (like the carotid artery in the neck) will pump out bright red blood. Can I be a movie critic now?"
Q. In your review of "The Peacemaker," you failed to mention the most flagrant technical scientific error. The heroes save the day by preventing a nuclear explosion. But in the process a smaller explosion blows plutonium to bits in midtown New York City. I remember from high school physics that plutonium is the most lethal inorganic material known, and that a softball-sized sphere, properly distributed, could kill everyone on earth. Granted that the sphere in the movie was only baseball-sized, George Clooney and Nicole Kidman should have been in the last throes of radiation poisoning at the end of the movie. (Dave Jackson, Pekin, IL)
A. And when she told the priest to get the choir boys "as far from here as possible," he should have had a jet plane parked outside.
Q. I went to my home country, Korea, during my summer vacation, and Luc Besson was visiting to open his latest movie "The Fifth Element, " imported by Samsung. They cut several scenes out of the film so that theaters could run it more times per day which means more profit for Samsung. At Luc Besson's press conference, reporters asked if he knew the film had been cut. But the translator (paid by Samsung) wouldn't translate that. Then one reporter got up and asked Luc Besson in English. The embarrassed people from Samsung tried to end the conference, but Luc Besson heard this question, and replied "No, but thank you for telling me about that." You could see he was very upset, but he seemed to try to calm himself. He left the country that night. Even after this incredibly embarrassing incident, Samsung didn't restore the film. I strongly feel there should be some kind of regulation from directors and studios to prevent this nonsense. (Min Woong Lee, Irvine, CA)
A. I checked out the Web site for the English edition of the Chosunilbo newspaper, and found a report on Korean "movie wars" in which Samsung is allegedly overbidding for Korean rights to drive out competitors, and then cutting films to squeeze in more screenings. Luc Besson does not strike me as the right director to pull this on.
Q. I was with you on your call for a Pulitzer Prize for film, right up to when, in answering the question of which person connected to the film would win the prize, you wrote, "the Pulitzer would simply go to the film itself, period, end of discussion." This is a very reasonable answer, but it isn't an answer. You are talking about the awarding of an actual object--the Pulitzer Prize. It is not a theoretical distinction, it is a piece of hardware. A film cannot receive a statue and put it on its mantle. An artistic award must be given to artists. (Daniel M. Conley, Chicago)
A. There is not an actual piece of hardware connected with the Pulitzer, but there is a $2,000 award and a certificate. The question is: Who should get it? The producer? Director? Screenwriter? Actors? I argued that since film is a collaborative medium and credit is impossible to assign, the Pulitzer should go to the film itself. You make a good point, but should a Pulitzer for film be sidetracked by this question? Maybe it should be awarded to the film, and the certificate given to the director, representing his colleagues. I welcome suggestions from readers.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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