Western Actors Please Don’t Try to Speak Chinese!

With China’s economic rise and growing importance in the global markets comes more mention and notice in Western pop culture. Where in the 80’s  the C.C.C.P (more commonly known as the U.S.S.R) would be the enemy or the hero’s would find themselves speaking Russian now the Chinese are commonly taking those roles.

The update of the 80’s Red Dawn sees Chinese soldiers instead of Russians invading the U.S and more and more movies see some of the heroes busting out some Mandarin to impress the crowd.

They should stop trying to speak it. Their Chinese is awful.

I’ll go on with two examples.

First , the cult sci-fi classic Firefly. This t.v series envisions a futuristic wild style setting in space. The two dominate superpowers , The U.S and China , led the way to space and we see a mix of these cultures. The main characters use chopsticks , drink tea , and swear in Chinese! However, native speakers of Chinese can’t understand the heavily accented , toneless , non-sense coming out of the actors mouths. With my Chinese friends we had to replay over and over again to finally get what the characters were saying. Some sentences we never did figure out what was happening. Since it’s entirely Western characters in the series , I’ll let it go that the Mandarin evolved into a more Englishized version. This couldn’t be the case with example number 2 though.

2011’s Limitless is a great film about a new designer drug that allows the brain to fire at 100% capacity. Every synapse is going full blast and allows anyone who takes it to master piano in 3 days , learn any foreign language by merely listening to little bits over the course of a week , and make a complete killing in the stock markets. The main character busted out some pretty authentic sounding Italian around the middle of the movie but when it came to the last scene Chinese language completely won out over the drug . The lead character busts out some “Chinese” . I guess you could call it that. Kinda sounds like a funky mix of Cantonese /Mandarin and the waiter understands fully and responds. In real life this would not have gone down . It sounds nothing like authentic , native speech at all.

Mandarin/Cantonese +1    NZT -0

There are some other examples I’ve heard while watching other movies but they aren’t popping into my head right now. (Though I watched Iron Man with some Russians and they said the main bad guy’s Russian was horrible haha)

Time to bust out that Rosetta Stone , Hollywood!

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