While Squid Game is the #1 show in the world now, according to Buzzfeed, many who speak Korean are unhappy and upset with what is being translated, and what is being left out. Taking something in one language and translating it into another is an art that many producers don’t understand, or don’t want to pay for.
The internet is buzzing right now with Korean speakers pointing out the problems with the translations and what is being missed, smoothed over, or just plain left out. Many subtleties that would enrich the show for non-Korean speakers are being missed completely.
10: The Meaning Of Character Names
There are several busy threads on Reddit about Squid Game at the moment, and the translations are a hot topic. Redditor huazzy posted about how specific character names have deeper meanings that are being lost in the translation. They post: “Sae-byeok (The North Korean defector’s name) means ‘Dawn’ in Korean.”
There are more subtle differences in the way the characters address one another as well, that shows differing class and level of respect. vitaminwater247 posted: “I am annoyed that the subtitles use names when the characters actually says ‘hyung’ (meaning older brother or senior in a respectable way.)” While a more culture-specific translation may be desirable, some fans on Reddit have posted that a direct English translation could make it more confusing for those not overly familiar with Korean customs.
9: More About The Challenges
In Squid Game, the challenges are central to the series, but are non-Korean speakers getting the full understanding of them? For example, huazzy noted that the first game played “is the same idea as Red Light/Green Light but there’s a difference in cadence that makes it more strategic than just Red Light/Green Light.”
On TikTok, user Euijin Seo explains some of the translation and cultural difficulties; the game “red light, green light” from hell — a game that many American children grew up playing in schools (minus the violence) — but is actually called “mugunghwa kkochi pieot seumnida” in Korean. Euijin said that “mugunghwa” is actually the Korean national flower, and in the Korean version of the game, “every time the flower bloomed, you gotta freeze,”
8: “One Lucky Day”
One Korean Redditor pointed out the significance of the last episode’s title of “One Lucky Day”, which is a famous Korean short story by Hyun Jin-gun, and why the end of the episode was known to nearly everyone in Korea:
“The last episode is ‘One Lucky Day’ and this is from well-known literature ‘운수 좋은 날.’ In that novel, the main character hustles hard all day to feed his sick wife. When he gets back home, he finds his wife dead, then the story’s over.” In the episode, Ki-hoon made a lot of money in the game to help his mother, but on his return home, found his mother was dead, thus paralleling the story.
7: The Cultural Differences
Translating culture is extremely difficult without having the viewer pause the video for lengthy, academic footnotes on the background and cultural norms a native would understand instantly but would be lost on the non-native.
Reddit user lifechainged noted that Sang-woo being in the tub next to a burning briquette, which was often a sign of suicide. “Briquettes are a sign of poverty as back in the day, Koreans didn’t have electricity… It’s also commonly used for Koreans to [take their own life] as being in a space with the fumes causes death.”
6: Hiding Her North Korean Accent
One Twitter user Youngmi Mayer (@ymmayer ) explained that a character trying to hide her actual accent from the other players: “In the scene where Sae Byeok [Sae-byeok] talks to her younger brother, she initially talks in the standard Seoul dialect, but immediately switches to the North Korean accent when her brother starts becoming distressed.”
This is common, as there can be a level of discrimination and the North Korean would be trying to downplay her differences to better fit in. A Redditor added their surprise that other viewers hadn’t picked up on the fact: “When everyone watching with me I was like ‘why doesn’t everyone know she’s North Korean?’
5: Some Of The Voice Acting Work
Asian actor Edward Hong voices multiple characters in Squid Game, including Kim Si-hyun, (player 244) AKA the pastor. “The way Korean pastors talk is completely different than how American pastors talk,” he related during a BuzzFeed interview. “So actors that don’t have the cultural familiarity might not understand how to play that part.”
Dubbing is a difficult art, Edward continues: “I would call dubbing a magic trick because it requires four groups of people in choirs: the actor, ADR director, the audio engineer, and the translator — every single aspect has to work perfectly for dubbing to make it sound and look like it’s seamless.”
4: The Meaning Of “Gganbu”
Some things missed may have little importance, but others can define characters and their relationships. In episode 6, the conversation between player 001 and Gi-hun around the meaning behind gganbu, a Korean word that is used to show allyship.
Youngmi Mayer says that in the English version, the text reads as “we share everything,” but the actual translation of gganbu is “there is no ownership between me and you.” She says in her video that while it might seem a small difference, it’s really a “huge miss” because it’s “the entire point of this episode.”
3: Mi-Nyeo Slight Dialogue Changes
Mayer pointed out that the English subs and dubs would consistently sanitize Han Mi-nyeo’s pretty constant swearing and coarse dialogue. One glaring example she pointed out was when the character was trying to coerce the others to play the marble in Episode 6. Han Mi-nyeo, a smart character, says “isn’t a genius but can still work things out,” but Youngmi translates the line to: “I am very smart; I just never got a chance to study.”
To know just how crude a character is can be very important to the understanding of that character and how they fit into their own world. It would be like dubbing in “darn” on Samuel L. Jackson, so the viewer misses a lot.
2: Subtle Comedy Is Missed
Spoken comedy is always difficult to translate, and when it comes to two words having different meanings but the same pronunciation, it makes all the more difficult.
Redditor nobasketball4me states: “…when Sangwoo [Sang-woo] describes how he lost his money playing around with futures in stocks, Gihun [Gi-hun] is confused because “futures” in Korean is “선물” (sunmool) which is coincidentally the same pronunciation as the word “gift.” So GH was under the impression SW lost $6M by giving an expensive “gift” to a woman or something, hence the comedic effect.”
Korean culture is very age and class conscious, and to ignore the proper honorifics shows an immense amount of contempt and disrespect. Non-Korean viewers might have missed some of this with Gi-hun and Oh Il-nam, as this Redditor points out:
“Re: honorifics, we always see Gi-hun using the most polite/formal speech when addressing Old Man (treating elderly with respect) but in the final scene where they reunite, he drops it and switches to informal/rude speech as he realizes the kind of monster Old Man had been all along. Even the way he poured the water and handed it over to him with one hand showed contempt.” That showed a change in their dynamic.