Crossing the pond, landing with a thud

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-04-09 08:00:29

I did not finish the full-length version and found the truncated one not difficult to follow. What's lost, I believe, are the interesting setups and pauses that illuminate the Chinese art of storytelling. Much of the plot is still there. It is the flavor that was sacrificed.

The American edition uses the framework of the Empress Dowager in her senior years reminiscing at the beginning and the end of each episode, hinting at what's to come and recapping the key points. This device, not used in the original, is culturally understandable but artistically mediocre.

What puzzles me is the two new songs for the opening and end credits. They were written in English, but sung by Chinese with an uncomfortable accent. They were obviously designed to appeal to an English-speaking base, but do not jibe with the Chinese dialogue.

Speaking of the dialogue, the English translation, picked apart by some Chinese, is too literal for my taste. I can imagine a typical American hit by a flurry of royal ranks, addresses and greetings, even multiple names and titles for the same person. The first half hour must be a swamp to wade through, very much like my experience of getting through a Tolstoy tome with its endless inflections of names transliterated into lengthy Chinese.

I see the choice of verbatim translation as an effort for conveying exotica. It is fairly competent, with no error that I could detect, but fails to rise above words or capture the essence of the language.

A cultural product usually crosses over to a foreign territory first by an emphasis on the commonalities. But whether inside or outside China, the temptation to sell it for the differences is just too great. Sure, the sumptuous sets and costumes are a big attraction, but the narrative technique has become-how shall I put it?-a bit anglicized, which is necessary for cultural export. Judging by the responses, this legend, which, contrary to the claim of the English trailer, is totally fictitious, has departed from China but not yet landed on American shores.


Empresses in the Palace flops in North America

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