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Darcy Paquet on translating Park Chan-wook

Still from Decision to Leave

As magazines start publishing their Best of 2022 lists, we are reminded of Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave – which I think would top many people’s list of top Korean films of the year, and is #3 in the BFI’s list of films from all countries. It’s slightly ironic that BFI support their selection of the movie with a somewhat neutral extract from a review by Tony Rayns, who is not known for his admiration of Park’s work. Jessica Kiang is more colourful in her brief discussion of the movie in the V&A’s magazine, describing it as “fabulously slinky”.

The film is best watched on the big screen for its gorgeous visuals, and you can catch it at the NFT over the holiday period. But of course its UK distribution is by MUBI, and so it is featuring, along with many other of Park’s works, on that platform at the moment (including a rare opportunity to see his early short, Judgement)

To celebrate the Park Chan-wook season, MUBI has published a fascinating article by the doyen of subtitlers (and of course of Korean film experts more broadly), Darcy Paquet. Darcy was responsible for the subtitles of Decision to Leave as well as many other major movies including Parasite. It’s interesting to hear a little about his translation process, as well as some of his insights into Park’s use of language:

Even more so than in a typical Park Chan-wook film, the dialogue in Decision to Leave feels like the intricately fashioned springs and wheels of a wristwatch. It’s not just that each sentence is perfectly formed, but that they fit so neatly into the overall structure of the movie. Each character speaks in a voice that is utterly distinctive, with words and phrases from one part of the film repeated and echoed in later scenes.

Darcy contrasts the “complexity and nuance of the dialogue crafted by Park and co-writer Chung Seo-kyung” with the more imprecise language used by the characters in a Hong Sangsoo movie and the “abrupt or absurd tone” sometimes used by Kim Ki-young’s characters. Something to look out for next time you rewatch any of these films. Darcy’s article is worth a read in its entirety.

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