The hit Korean Netflix series has taken the world by storm but most recently, the streaming giant has come under fire for its inaccurate English subtitles.
Most recently though, a TikTok user has been uncovering just how different the show is when watching with English subtitles. Proving just why the term “lost in translation” exists, in a TikTok video titled “#squidgame translations are sooo wrong here’s a little example”, Young Mi Mayer breaks down how the messaging of some scenes is completely lost in English.
Being Korean-American and fluent in the language, comedian Young Mi first raised the issue on Twitter where she wrote:
“Not to sound snobby but i’m fluent in korean and 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.”
Going on to post a TikTok with more detail, Young Mi did a brief scene breakdown exposing just how different the subtitles make the series seem. She says, in the video that now has over 11 million views, that “there’s better examples but these are the ones that I just found in 10 minutes.”
Starting with Mi-nyeo, Young Mi explains that her name actually translates as “beautiful girl” and states that “her dialogue constantly gets botched. Every little thing that she says is f*cked up and I think it’s because she plays a low-class character and gangster so she cusses a lot and it gets very sterilised.”
Random things that “aren’t even that bad”, she explains, are missed. “Everything she says is not really aligning and so you’re missing a lot of this character and what she stands for.”
The one part that is a “huge miss”, she says is when Mi-nyeo is arguing with Gi-hun over picking her as a partner in the game. The English subtitle reads “I’m not a genius but I still got it work out. Huh?”
What she actually says is: “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study” which, Young Mi explains, is a huge trope in Korean media: the poor person who is smart and clever but just isn’t wealthy enough to get an education. Missing out on anecdotes like this for a large majority, means also missing out on key Korean cultural references.
“Almost everything she says is being botched … The writers – all they want you to know about her is that and it seems so small but it’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the show.”
Many other fans have pointed out similar discrepancies on Twitter. One user says: “Me and my flatmate both watched Squid Game on two different laptops and our English subtitles were different. The distinctions were subtle but even that made it feel like we were watching different shows.”
In a show that saw so many deliberate choices being made about its creative direction and production, fans are rightfully worried that their interpretations of the show may not be as accurate as once thought.
Artistic Director of Squid Game Chae Kyung-sun speaks about how, when first approached to do the series, it was all about giving “a new interpretation to the themes of aspiration and desire. That was my goal with this project.”
In the YouTube video on the Still Watching Netflix channel, Chae Kyung-sun says that: “As I read the script, I mainly focused on portraying the scenario suitable to Korean culture and tradition.”
It’s clear that the director Hwang Dong-hyuk also wanted the smallest details paid close attention to. Even keeping in outtake scenes was integral to the characters. Lee Jung-jae who plays Gi-hun describes how “moments like these were placed throughout the script.”
While Young Mi used closed captioning in that first explanatory TikTok, the problem still remains in the English subtitles that Netflix provides. Many of the nuances and metaphorical references that the director and artistic director would’ve intentionally put in are actually lost.
In a second explanatory video, Young Mi points out the naming of the first game and episode – Red Light, Green Light. In Korean, the game actually translates to “the mugunghwa flower has blossomed” which, Young Mi states, is the national flower of Korea and a key metaphor to have included.
More thorough translations for Squid Game would’ve been a great opportunity for Netflix to really educate and inform international audiences about aspects of Korean culture.
Netflix has yet to issue a statement about these concerns but all we can do is hope that if a second series is in the pipeline, next time they will nail the translations so we don’t miss a thing.
Image credit: Netflix