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Lost in Translation: Friends May Fail to Show

The plan of China Central Television (CCTV) to introduce the popular play Friends from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) of the United States may get stranded, according to Wednesday's Shanghai Morning Post.

Qin Mingxin, deputy director of the international department of CCTV's Entertainment Program Center, recently feels greatly worried about the work. "I had thought the play focused on friendship, but after a careful preview I found each episode had something to do with sex. Also, the attitudes of the six close-knit young friends in the play cannot be generally accepted by Chinese audiences yet," he said. "We will face many problems in translation and abridgement, but I'm unwilling to give it up."

According to Qin, a group of experts have been invited to review and evaluate Friends, including old and young people as well as skillful English practitioners and experienced TV workers. They came to the same conclusion: too many difficulties! "Though the play is a TV series divided into 10 seasons, the story is consistent. If we cut off some parts concentrated on sex, the continuity of the play will be interrupted," Qin said.

In mid February, Friends will come to an end at NBC and bid farewell to its eager audiences, which has been a great hit with American TV audiences for a decade. CCTV had planned to take this opportunity to let the play debut here. With 10 seasons altogether, each containing 24 episodes and each episode lasting 25 minutes, CCTV-8 would bring out two episodes in its "Overseas Theater" every night starting from 22:45 and go on for half a year.

However, the "nice" plan may have to be aborted. "Most youths on the Chinese mainland have watched the play and feel passionate about it. If we make too much trimming, I'm afraid they will not agree. But it is also impossible to accept it uncritically," Qin explained. "First, a large number of slang and jokes are hard to convey. Language is an important criterion in judging the excellence of situation comedy. If translation falls short of requirements, the viewing effect will subside. Second, much content of Friends, considered healthy in the United States, still seems unacceptable to the Chinese. This is totally different from introducing operas from the Republic of Korea, for Koreans have similar ethics and values as the Chinese."

Qin said they even thought of making a concession: cutting one or two episodes each season as Friends is a situation comedy, which demands little consistency between plots. "But this would destroy the overall structure of the play. If we introduce it, we must satisfy our audiences," said Qin.

Now the expert group are working hard and racking their brains to find a more satisfactory decision. Everyone hopes to realize the introduction, but more feasible suggestions are called for.

(China.org.cn by Li Jinhui and Daragh Moller, January 15, 2004)

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