“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” – Bong Joon-ho
For a long time, subtitles have been the invincible wall between us and a world of extraordinary storytelling. Many of the people around me have refused to indulge in foreign films and dramas, claiming that subtitles distract them from the actual plot or that they just aren’t for them. I think the fact that English is considered by far the most superior language in the world has a lot to do with this. It might not be the case for everyone or even a conscious consideration, but for some reason watching something in a language other than English decreases its perceived value. To put this into perspective, think about the number of people worldwide watching movies such as Frozen or Fast & Furious. Now compare this to the number of English-speaking individuals who have watched movies such as Bad Genius or This Is Not What I Expected. One could argue that English movies are consumed far more than international movies due to the magnitude of the American movie industry. However, what I want to highlight here are the biases surrounding subtitles and international movies and shows.
What many people don’t realize is that subtitles have a surprising number of benefits. They have, for example, created a new labor market that showcases the work of a niche group of people within the entertainment industry. In addition to translating a particular scene, subtitles showcase the unique interpretation of another individual, arguably enhancing the story-telling experience. Not only do we get to see the story unfold from our own perspective, but we see things from a more labour-intensive perspective, where attention to detail is a requirement rather than a choice. It also makes multitasking a lot easier. You can easily argue with your roommate while also keeping an eye on Grey’s Anatomy, both obviously being issues of equal importance.
It’s only recently that this aversion to subtitles seems to be subsiding. With the release and subsequent recognition of foreign content, people around me have become open to the idea of understanding something purely through subtitles. In fact, I would credit the recent success of Squid Game and It’s Okay Not To Be Okay to the victory of its predecessor, Parasite. By gaining recognition from what is considered the most prestigious film award in the Western world, this Korean film has changed the minds of many. I want to point out that while Parasite was the final push in the right direction, this has been an accumulated effort of great works of the past.
Squid Game in particular has gained rapid popularity across the world. Obtaining the title of being the most watched Netflix show ever, it has set the bar high for upcoming English and non-English releases. The show presents a dark world of greed and desperation where individuals compete in childhood games to obtain the grand prize of 45.6 billion won. The producers of Squid Game create an immersive world of dynamic characters, where viewers can see the raw emotions that fuel their actions.
If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years of cinematic history, it is that a plethora of films and dramas comparable to our favourite Hollywood counterparts lie within the world of subtitles. If we can just move past the words lining the bottom of our screens, we can truly delve into great works of art grounded in the culture and creativity of storytellers from around the world.