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That Time I Saw Star Trek Beyond At The Cinema.. In Chinese


“Ni hao. Wo yao yi ge piao na ge. Dui, Star Trek san. Xie xie.”

I watched Star Trek: Beyond in Chinese at the cinema by accident and it was … great? Getting the “accident” part out of the way before you think that your local cineplex is going to start randomly showing foreign versions of Hollywood films, let me clarify that I so easily stumbled into a Chinese version ofBeyond because I currently live in Beijing, China.

In England I was an avid cinemagoer (as many of my reviews and features on this site and others would show). For nigh on five years I took complete and utter advantage of my Cineworld card, typically watching at least two-to-three films per week. When I made the decision to go to China, cancelling my membership with the cinema chain was the hardest thing of all things in English life that I had to accept I would be giving up. Worried that I would no longer get my movie-fix I was glad to learn that many cinemas in Beijing screen English language performances of Western films, and for cheap too (thus far ticket cost has averaged £3.50 per film).

One of the major bummers concerning Western film in China is that the selection is usually very limited to big-scale Hollywood fare (and occasionally really random crap like The November Man and Solace) meaning that new films come along sporadically and aren’t that varied in style/genre. As another kick to the balls, ones that I really want to see don’t come along at all. For example, neither Deadpool norGhostbusters were released in China

Additionally, films are typically released long after they have opened in the UK and the United States. Consequently, my online reading material and ability to take part in current film conversations has been somewhat hindered since I began my stint in China. Thus why this article has been written now instead of two months ago.

Until now I had been very careful about film schedules but because of the aforementioned wait and my excitement to see Beyond after a Korean friend touted it as “beyond amazing” (without a hint of irony on their part), I checked the morning film times on the day of release and chose the 11:35am one without hesitation. I headed into town, bought my ticket, took my seat and giddied as Michael Giacchino’s score played over the pre-film run of production companies. 

Wait, why are there so many Chinese film company logos? Woah, that alien looks cool. Why aren’t there subtitles for what it’s saying? Wahey! Chris Pine. Long time no… Why is Chris Pine speaking Chinese? And why doesn’t he sound like Chris Pine? This is weird. [A penny somewhere far away teeters… wobbles… drops.] Ah, shit.

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For a solid five minutes I considered leaving the auditorium to explain to the ticket clerk that I had bought the wrong ticket because I, in fact, speak very little Chinese and would like a new one for an English screening of the film. This was before my brain reminded me that that conversation would be as difficult as ascertaining exactly what it was Kirk was saying to his crew now that he was back on the Enterprise and so I dropped the idea. 

But then, I could kind of gather what Kirk was saying… I mean, look at the way Spock just dead-panned Kirk and the way Bones’s eyes basically popped out of his head as he looked from Spock to Kirk to the floor to what was probably a bottle of whiskey off-screen. There were bits that I could kind of gather: Kirk seemed tired with what appeared to be a day-to-day routine; Spock and Uhura appeared to have broken up and Spock was having doubts about mortality and being like Original Timeline Spock; Scotty just wanted a sandwich.

As the film went on I regretted my error less and less. The third instalment of the reboot movie series had different screenwriters, a very different director and, as I watched, a totally different overall feel to Star Trekand Into Darkness, so why not enjoy it with a different language too? It certainly helped that Justin Lin’sBeyond tells a ‘Star Trek’ story much more visually than JJ Abrams. Don’t get me wrong, I love Abrams’s efforts (yes, even Into Darkness), but Lin’s tale is definitely more consistently action-driven than the previous two films.

Because of this action-heavy nature it was a lot easier to sit back and take Beyond for whatever it wanted to throw at me and my cinema chair. In the most simplest of descriptions, it was like watching a silent film that was in colour, contained 2,000% more CGI than any silent film, and wasn’t very, well, silent. I’d argue that we could probably watch most films in a foreign language and still enjoy them to a certain extent because cinema is by-and-large a medium that affects through both visual and audio and not just spoken language. Michael Giacchino’s score was still present; the tone of voice from the Chinese actors was mostly discernible (my one major gripe was that the voiceover for Spock sounded unnecessarily angry all the time and Krall’s actor wasn’t nearly as bad-ass sounding as Idris Elba) and Justin Lin’s aforementioned visuals were very visible.

I will admit that although I could watch Simon Pegg and Sofia Boutella together in a sitcom set in the woods, speaking in another language for at least 163 episodes, it did help that I could also understand Chinese words here and there, meaning that I could try to figure out the context of a scene in a narrative sense more quickly than having to watch the whole scene or act or even more to gather what was happening. For that reason, in terms of pure entertainment, it was probably lucky that I’d accidentally sat down to a film like Beyond than Far From The Madding Crowd as scenes moved quickly and character motivations were often pretty easy to read in the actor’s physical performance. I’d definitely like to see it again though, to catch the verbal jokes that elicited some quiet laughs from my Chinese co-watchers.

I’m not sure if I would willingly choose to sit down to another Western film in the Chinese language sans subtitles any time soon but it was an interesting accidental experiment – one that I would recommend to anyone reading this. As a film-watching experience this was a new one for me and I have a feeling that all the effort I had to put into watching the film actually spared me from finding things to criticize. Perhaps next time I could double-whammy it and watch a Chinese screening and then an English screening of the same film in one day or two consecutive days… heck, the tickets are cheap enough compared to England to do so. 

Now, if only I could remember what it was Chinese Spock actually said when he delivered his token “live long and prosper” line. That’d be a cool thing to say to my English friends when they ask me what Chinese I know.

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