According to fluent Korean speaker Youngmi Mayer, Squid Game features “botched” subtitles that have changed the show’s meaning for English-speaking viewers.
For those unaware of Squid Game, it’s a Korean-language drama about an alternative world where people in debt compete in deadly games. The plot sees a group of people tempted into a survival game where they have the chance to walk away with 45.6 billion Korean won ($38 million) if they win a series of six games. According to a BBC article, it’s currently on track to become Netflix’s biggest original series. From the report: “The dialogue was so well written and zero of it was preserved [in the subtitles],” Youngmi said in a Twitter post. In a TikTok video that’s had almost nine million views, Youngmi gave several examples of mistranslation. In one scene a character tries to convince people to play the game with her, and the closed-caption subtitles read: “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out.” But what the character actually says, Youngmi explains, is: “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study.” That translation puts more emphasis on the wealth disparity in society — which is also a theme in the Oscar-winning 2019 Korean film, Parasite. “Almost everything she says is being botched translation-wise… the writers, all they want you to know about her is that,” Youngmi said. “[It] seems so small, but it’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the show.” Youngmi later clarifies that her initial comments were about the automatically generated closed-caption subtitles rather than the English language subtitles, which are “substantially better.” But she added: “The misses in the metaphors — and what the writers were trying to actually say — are still pretty present.”