Netflix’s highly distinguished South Korean survival drama television series, Squid Game, made its worldwide debut on September 17, 2021, and became Netflix’s most-watched series and ends up being the top-viewed program in 94 countries and captivating more than 142 million member households and was able to amass 1.65 billion viewing hours during its first four weeks from launch, surpassing Bridgerton for the title of the most-watched show.
The show revolves around Seong Gi-hun, a divorced father and obligated gambler who gets the invitation for taking part in a sequence of children’s games for a chance to win a massive cash prize. After accepting the offer, he finds himself competing with 455 other participants suffering from the same financial crises. Being taken to a foreign location, all the players are forced to wear green tracksuits and kept under 24/7 surveillance. The game is overseen by a man wearing a full black attire complete with a black mast and is called the Front Man. The plot thickens with an exciting turn when the players realize that loss results in their deaths.
This dangerously adventurous game has gained global recognition and won numerous awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for O Yeong-SU’s performance. Audiences applauded this battle royale-themed drama for its sophisticated production values, fastening story, and remarkable personalities, and soon the show leapfrogged Bridgerton in merely 28 days.
Despite getting positive reviews, Netflix also received heavy criticism for cutting corners on Squid Game’s English subtitles quality. The work of providing subtitles is quite crucial when it comes to the film industry as, according to a survey, 72% of Netflix’s American viewers said they desire dubs when watching the Spanish hit series Money Heist, Netflix’s third most popular show ever.
A prime example of the subtitles being of low quality can be seen during a touching moment between Ali Abdul and Sang Woo. The scene is about their relationship as Sang-Woo suggests Ali call him Hyung instead of sajang-nim or “Mr. Company President.” The term hyung translates as “older brother,” which is a term generally used by someone to address an elder man with whom he has made a closer connection. And this beautiful endearment was lost when it was subtitled in English as the line “Call me Hyung” was subtitled as “Call me Sang Woo.” At this moment, a heart-touching dialogue lost its charm and warmth.
Irrespective of these occurrences, Doga Uludag, who works as a proofreader, argued that Squid Game’s subtitles are, in fact, at a high standard. Jonghyun ChoShe, a senior lecturer in translation and interpreting at Macquarie University, also supported her statement with the explanation that irrespective of their best work, some phrases are destined to be lost in translation. Honorifics, in particular, are “untranslatable.”
Hopefully, Netflix will improve the quality of subtitles in its future projects, and fans will experience the true feelings of the dialogues.