By Maëlle Alquezar

Chinese films struggle to catch on with overseas audience. According to a report released by the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture (AICCC) and Beijing Normal University (BNU), one of the main reasons behind this flop is related to inadequate subtitles.

While China’s domestic box office has been booming for the last few years, Chinese films are far from succeeding abroad. Indeed, overseas revenue dropped by nearly 48% between 2011 and 2012 and contributed to only 1 billion yuan in income compared to the 17 billion generated by imported blockbusters.

Culture differences and language barrier appear to be real obstacles. According to a survey carried out for the report, 30.7% of the 1,117 respondents said they are unable to follow the plot of Chinese films and 29.9% of them said that they do not fully understand them because of poor subtitles.

Xiao Wei, an AICCC researcher, mentioned that there were difficulties when translating Chinese movies as it is sometimes impossible to find an equivalent word in English. Moreover, she added that many Chinese filmmakers hire random translation companies or individuals, implying either a bad knowledge of the background of the story or the cultural context of the target audiences.

Even though most Chinese films are not very successful abroad, some of them are very popular such as action, kung fu and comedy films. The fact that there is more body language than spoken language can explain this trend as it contributes to a better understanding of the movie.

This report encourages Chinese filmmakers to hire translators from the target audience in order to adapt and localise the language. The report also suggests using a global perspective in order to match foreign audience’s expectations.

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