“Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” – Bong Joon Ho
These were the words spoken by Bong Joon Ho at the 2020 Golden Globe awards after winning best foreign-language film for the universally acclaimed social-satire Parasite. Parasite would go on to win multiple academy awards, including Best Picture (the first non-English speaking movie to do so).
Some would point to the success of Parasite as a precursor to the worldwide success of Netflix juggernaut Squid Game, created by Hwang Dong Hyuk, but Korean cinema has been breaking out from its domestic home into the international market for some years now, with movies like The Handmaiden (2016), Train to Busan (2016), and Burning (2018) all gaining worldwide critical attention. Korean/English language mixes such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017) have further cemented the place of Korean cinema and Korean filmmakers in the wider space around worldwide, and English language, cinema. The one big question that comes with the discovery of any new movie or television show not in your own native tongue: how should I watch it? Sub or dub?
For anyone with a history of watching Japanese anime, the clear answer is to watch the sub. English dubs of Japanese anime have a long history of taking huge artistic license with the plot, characters, and overall tone of the series. Subtitled versions of anime and live-action movies rarely take such liberties, and usually stick to the director’s message as closely as possible.
While anyone with any knowledge of multiple languages will tell you translation is not an exact science, subtitling movies is the best way to experience the true intentions of any cinematic work. The popularity of non-English language shows such as Squid Game and Money Heist prove that Bong’s message was observed, and people are now exploring the fantastic pantheon of non-English media through that “one inch tall barrier”, or does it?
While many of us have watched Squid Game, and so too have our friends, did we watch it in the same way? Recent research by Morning Consult in the United States found that, as of October 2021, 1 in 4 households did indeed watch Squid Game, but the way they watched it was quite different depending on age groups. But, even among younger age groups, whom it would be assumed would be less likely to watch a non-English language show/movie dubbed, the numbers were still about 50% preferring the dub version, with the number rising as the age of the respondents increased.
It’s reasonable to assume that in other English-speaking countries such as Ireland and the UK, that number would be comparable. So the next time you discuss the topic of a non-English language movie with a friend, first find out: Did you sub it, or dub it? Their answer might shock you!