‘Squid Game’ gets called out for ‘botched’ Korean translations

“Squid Game” is in the headlines again over yet more troubling details about the Netflix show’s production.

Comedy writer and fluent Korean speaker Youngmi Mayer took to social media this week to call out the show, currently the streaming platform’s No. 1 series, for shoddy Korean-English translation work.

Based in South Korea, the show depicts hundreds of cash-strapped citizens participating in a tournament of deadly children’s games and puzzles, with one exceptional final contestant destined to a reward of life-changing riches. The fact that the players are of various disadvantaged and otherwise low-income backgrounds is critical to the nuance of the translation, according to Mayer — but that is completely missed in the English translation of the show.

Mayer shared a TikTok video explaining that “if you don’t understand Korean you didn’t really watch the same show,” she said in a Thursday tweet with more than 78,000 likes. “The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved.”

Referring to the “gangster” character Han Mi-nyeo (played by Kim Joo-Ryoung), Mayer said her dialogue “constantly gets botched,” explaining that “she cusses a lot and it gets very sterilized.”

Squid Game
Youngmi Mayer claimed the Korean-to-English translation in “Squid Game” had been “sterilized” for American audiences.

“She says [in Korean], ‘What are you looking at?’ It’s turned into, ‘Go away [in subtitles],’ ” she noted in a video initially posted to TikTok and reshared via Twitter, amassing more than 4 million views between the two sites. “Which might seem arbitrary … You’re missing a lot of this character and what she stands for.”

At another point, Mi-nyeo is quoted in subtitles as saying, “I’m not a genius, but I can work it out,” according to Mayer.

“What she actually said was, ‘I am very smart — I just never got a chance to study.’ That is a huge trope in Korean media: The poor person that’s smart and clever and just isn’t wealthy. That’s a huge part of her character,” Mayer said.

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