The Korean-language drama dropped on Netflix in September and explores a dystopian reality in which a mysterious organisation recruits people who are in staggering amounts of debt to compete in a series of deadly games.
It became an unexpected sensation for the streaming service and has become one of their biggest-ever shows in a matter of days.
However, comedian Youngmi Mayer, who is fluent in Korean, has said that the closed-caption English subtitles on the show are “so bad” that they often lose the nuance and impact of the original script. “The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved,” she claimed.
Closed-caption subtitles are used by people who are hard of hearing and are matched to the version of the show dubbed in English. These differ from the show’s English-language subtitles, as dubbed dialogue is often changed to match the mouth movements of the actors. Users can choose either version when watching Squid Game.
In a video shared on TikTok on Thursday (30 October), Mayer pointed to the “low class” character of Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-Ryoung) whose swearing she said is often “sterilised” by the translation, with her comments changed to take away what she stands for.
In one example, Mi-nyeo asks in Korean: “What are you looking at?” Mayer says the translation changes it to: “Go away.”
In another scene from Squid Game, the character tries to convince people to play the game with her, with the closed-caption subtitles reading: “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out.”
#squidgame translations are sooo wrong here’s a little example
♬ original sound - youngmi
Mayer explained that she is actually saying: “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study,” which plays into a popular trope in Korean TV and film where characters are intelligent but not wealthy.
“Almost everything she says is being botched translation-wise... the writers, all they want you to know about her is that,” Mayer said. “Seems so small, but it’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the f***ing show.”
She also pointed to another scene, in which Oh Il-nam (Oh Young-soo) and Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) are discussing their friendship.
She said that a line that means “there is no ownership between me and you” has been translated to say “we share everything” instead.
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
— youngmi mayer (@ymmayer) September 30, 2021
“That is a huge miss,” Mayer said. “That’s the entire point of this f***ing episode. It’s a very small sentence, but now it doesn’t even make sense. That is such a difference in ideology that the writer is trying to get across to you.”
However, Mayer added that the issues weren’t the fault of the translators, explaining on Twitter: “The reason this happens is because translation work is not respected and also the sheer volume of content. Translators are underpaid and overworked and it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of producers who don’t appreciate the art.”
The Independent has reached out to Netflix for comment.
Squid Game is available to stream on Netflix now