Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Departed vs Infernal Affairs - A Preface

As I alluded to in the 100th post!, this blog writing thing is really important to me. Case in point, all week I've been thinking about how to write this. Every night I think about why people like The Departed better. Why people like Infernal Affairs better. Reading their opinions, their reasons, their comparisons. Considering their positions and my thoughts on those positions, whether I was too biased. Above all, I made an effort to resist the tendency to take anything personally.

You've undoubtedly seen flame wars, if no where else you've seen them in the comments sections of YouTube videos. You know where all that emotion comes from? People tend to perceive slights against what they like as insults directed at themselves. What do you mean hockey sucks?! I like hockey, that means you think I suck! *rage rage* Conversely, the reward centers of the brain light up when someone agrees with us. That is to say, when you read an article praising a show you happen to love you feel good, you bask in the reflected glory.

These feelings come to me, too. When I read some reviews saying The Departed had better pacing, I felt anger. When I read someone's comment saying The Departed was a mess, I felt that wave of pleasure. I'm not special because I'm immune to those tendencies, I am special because I am aware of them and act accordingly.

As I said, I read a lot of reviews going both ways about both films and I've come to believe that a lot of viewers just missed a lot when they saw Infernal Affairs, even the ones who prefer it to The Departed! I think it's safe to say most aren't Cantonese speakers, native or otherwise. It isn't something they have to apologize for, not at all, but it is something to factor into consideration.

As a native Chinese (Cantonese even!) speaker and a native English speaker I am in a particular position to be able to judge both films equally. You might immediately think this arrogant of me but I urge you to think about it. Do you really think that you experienced the film as smoothly as I did if you utilized the subtitles while I didn't? I don't say this with a high-brow attitude, sincerely. I don't believe it impossible for non-Chinese speakers to enjoy this film, to understand the film, as you can clearly see from the worldwide fan-base Infernal Affairs has cultivated. But I think it arrogant of a person to believe that subtitled viewing is every bit equal to that of native listeners. Arrogant to believe that those translations fully captured the intricacies of meaning that, at times, would have required annotations in a footer. By the way, some fan-subbed anime do this and I think it really helps but it really is too obtrusive to utilize in a cinematic production.

I showed Infernal Affairs to a non-Chinese speaking friend of mine and she noted that without my commentary on what was actually said she would not have gotten as much out of the film as she did. "Lost in translation" describes the situation perfectly. The subtitles just didn't don't properly convey what was said. Unavoidable? Yes, it is a lamentable fact that translating the dialogue into natural sounding and natural looking English sentences requires certain twists in wording and omissions of content. Yes, you cannot avoid encountering these lapses in translation. Unless you understand the original language you will run into one eventually whilst watching foreign cinema. Does this mean give up? Stick to your own country's cinema? Of course not. Hell, I don't do that in either sense. I possess some piddling Japanese skills and I watch anime. I don't speak any French but that doesn't stop me from watching their movies. And so on.

I'm expecting a stranger who happens to stumble on this blog whilst looking for an article about "The Departed compared to Infernal Affairs" to either cheer or think me a jackass due to those natural psychological factors I pointed out at the beginning. I'm hoping those of you who have followed me for a while will know me better than that.

What do you guys think of me doing a sort of watch-along for Infernal Affairs? I would basically do what I did for my friend: expound on the intricacies of what they actually said or didn't say, cover the gaps between subtitle and translation. Sadly, those two are not always one and the same. I'll be using the DVD edition and it's subtitles so I'll be able to provide reliable timestamps and you can vicariously watch it with me, where-ever you are! Watcha think?