After all, a film's title has a lot to do with how it will perform at the box office. But in this day of the international audience, what resonates in the West may bewilder and turn off moviegoers in the Far East. That's why movie distributors in Hong Kong regularly rename Hollywood titles for their Chinese audiences, who prefer more descriptive packaging.
"Major studios think up titles that are flat, boring and don't tell audiences what movies are about. We create titles that are more straightforward," Doinel Wu tells the Wall Street Journal. Wu has spent more than 10 years himself renaming Hollywood films.
Some rather interesting samples, as compiled by the Wall Street Journal, get their re-titles based on their content. Here are their Cantonese translations: Nixon, the Oliver Stone biopic about the life and times of a not-too-honest American president, gets the Cantonese re-title The Big Liar. Boogie Nights, the story of a well-endowed porn star, becomes His Powerful Device Makes Him Famous. The Professional, the 1994 tale of a killer-for-hire who befriends an orphaned girl, gets monikered This Hit Man Is Not as Cold as He Thought.
Other re-titles seem to have rules of their own. Note the following: Fargo, the story of murder and intrigue in the upper Midwest, becomes Mysterious Murder in Snowy Cream. What the hell, you say? Well, the Journal reports, the words "snowy cream" are pronounced "fahgo" in Cantonese. The English Patient. Not an easy one, Wu tells the Journal, since the literal translation is the off-putting The Sick Englishman. He finally adopted Don't Ask Me Who I Am to capture the film's mystery and passion. The Full Monty gets a Cantonese colloquialism translating into Six Stripped Warriors. (Of course, if you speak Mandarin, you read this as Six Naked Pigs.) And perhaps most baffling is As Good As It Gets--the story about a nasty romance novelist has been changed to Mr. Cat Poop.
But what of Titanic, you ask? Well, the ship has an international reputation, so the film didn't have to be renamed--at least not in Hong Kong. But you might develop quite the international rep yourself if you go to an Arabic-speaking nation and start querying folks on the street with, "Titanic?"
See, in Arabic, "titanic" sounds very much like, "Let's have sex."