With the recent rise in popularity of the Korean TV show Squid Game (2021) on Netflix, a debate has risen about whether dubbing series into English takes away from the viewing experience and changes the ideas initially communicated. Gemma Cockrell explores how questionable Netflix’s dubbing actually is.
There seems to be a bit of a divide between Squid Game fans, with one half of viewers expressing that the English dub entirely changes the dynamic and tone of the show, turning it from a drama into a comedy. It seems that the only reason the other half are appreciative of the dub is so they can multitask whilst watching the show – not because the quality of the dub is actually good. Otherwise, they’d have to keep their eyes glued to the screen for the entire runtime, reading the English subtitles. So, it seems that regardless of which side of the debate you are on, the Squid Game dub is undeniably viewed as bad, in and of itself. Its only redeeming quality is that it is useful for those who lead busy lifestyles and want to get on with other tasks at the same time as watching. So, ultimately, the only good thing about the Squid Game dub is that there is a dub.
The Squid Game dub is undeniably viewed as bad, in and of itself
Comedian Youngmi Mayer, who is fluent in Korean, took to Twitter when Squid Game first landed on Netflix to bring attention to issues that she found with the English dub. She tweeted: “I watched Squid Game with English subtitles and if you don’t understand Korean you didn’t really watch the same show… Translation was so bad. The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved. Such a shame. Translation is extremely important”. She chose a specific scene to demonstrate her point: a scene where the character Han Mi-nyeo, who is played by Kim Joo-Ryoung, had her words changed hugely between the script, dub and subtitles. She claimed that this lost some of the depth of her character. In Netflix’s closed captions, Han Mi-nyeo says: “I’m not a genius, but I can work it out”, but the direct translation of the script is: “I am very smart – I just never got a chance to study” – a line which was designed to highlight the wealth gap and education inequality in Korea. This English translation has an entirely different meaning, and for some reason Netflix seem to have chosen to simplify the script when converting it to English.
This isn’t just an issue with Squid Game however, it is also an issue with pretty much every non-English show on Netflix
Another issue that I noticed with Squid Game is that just like the dubbing, the English subtitles are a direct translation of the original Korean dialogue. However, this means that the English subtitles do not match up with the English dubbing – instead, they only match up with the Korean. But, if you are watching it in English, this makes the subtitles entirely useless. Some watchers may wish to read along to English subtitles whilst watching the English dub, and this fact renders it entirely impossible to do this. This isn’t just an issue with Squid Game however, it is also an issue with pretty much every non-English show on Netflix too, including its anime titles. It should also be mentioned that Netflix has received widespread criticism from deaf communities for the low quality of its closed caption subtitling, still a very important issue, but a different one entirely. Ultimately, it seems that Netflix have a lot of progress to make when it comes to subtitling and dubbing its TV shows, and Squid Game’s immense popularity has only further brought this to light.
In-article image courtesy of hoooooyeony via Instagram. No changes made to these images.
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