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Film Dubbing Development in China

, another animated special from the creators of Shrek and A Shark's Tale, debuts in cinemas across the country Friday.  


Tailor-made for the summer holidays, the cartoon about friendship raked in over US$100 million in the US, catapulting it to the top of box-office rankings in North America. Movie stars Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and David Schwimmer lent their vocal talents to the film, bringing to life a lion, a zebra, a hippo and a giraffe respectively, best friends and stars of the show set in New York's Central Park Zoo.


In the Chinese release of the cartoon, local celebrities Jin Haixin, Lin Yilun and He Jiong put their talent to good use, and their efforts were applauded by film buffs who attended the Beijing premiere. All three were voice-over newbies.


Singer Lin Yilun said that the success of the dubbing could be attributed to the close relationships the stars have with one another, and the fact that they each tried hard to keep in character.


But the success of the Chinese release of Madagascar is somewhat of an aberration. China is still in dire need of professional voice talents.


When Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith hit Chinese movie screens two months ago, one-third of the 300 film copies distributed in China were in the English language. Although this could be taken as an indication that the standard of English is improving generally, critics believe that it had to do also with a loss of confidence audiences have in dubbed versions.


The Chinese version of Matrix Reloaded, for example, was severely criticized. Fans of the movie complained that TV star Li Yapeng's dubbing was so bad that it killed the atmosphere of the film.


The state of the dubbing industry is very unlike its brilliant past.


China built two film dubbing studios in the 1950s, the first in Changchun, Jilin Province in 1955 and the second in Shanghai in 1959.


In the late 1970s and 80s, dubbing actors -- like Qiu Yuefeng, Shang Hua, Bi Ke and Li Zi -- were stars in their own right because they made foreign movies accessible to the ordinary Chinese people.


After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the dubbing industry went full steam ahead into its golden era, which lasted most of the 1980s and 90s. Over 600 movies from about 40 countries were dubbed at the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio, with 700 from 30 countries at Changchun. Japanese and Mexican movies came first, followed by Hollywood.


But things have changed since then. The industry hasn't been able to fill positions emptied through retirement or death with young talent. Today, there are only about 10 dubbing actors still working at the Shanghai studio. Most of the actors from the Changchun studio have moved to Beijing hoping to earn more money.


"The actors have to make a living," said Du Huijun, manager of the Changchun studio.


Low salaries are hindering the development of the industry. Jin Feng, voice of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, was paid only 1,200 yuan (US$144.6) for his services. Oddly enough, this is about twice what the average dubbing actor would make.


In a bid to revive the flagging industry, the Beijing Film Academy started offering a performing and dubbing elective in 2002, the first of its kind in China. The first group of graduates has so far been able to find work dubbing for foreign movies such as Finding Nemo, Green Giant and Pirates of the Caribbean.


(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, July 15, 2005)

Dubbed Works Losing Popularity
Golden Dubbing Age Falls on Deaf Ears
Beijing Audiences Have Mixed Views on Li Yapeng's Dubbing
Actor Li Yapeng Dubs the Film "Matrix Reloaded"
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