Voices in the dark

By Wang Ying ( Shanghai Star ) Updated: 2014-08-22 04:01:07

Voices in the dark

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Until recently, many foreign movies in China were dubbed into Mandarin, but with a growing number of cinema-goers understanding English, the industry is in decline. Wang Ying reports on the art of talking in the movies.

Before the economy opened up in the 1980s, one of the ways Chinese people could learn about the outside world was by watching foreign films dubbed into Mandarin. Although the movies were in black and white, the memories are colorful, thanks in part to the expressive talents of the Chinese voice actors.

For today's cinephiles accustomed to watching films with subtitles, it's difficult to imagine that voicing a part in a foreign film was once a choice occupation for a talented voice actor.

"In the early dubbed films, the performances of the voice actors were excellent, and sometimes even better than the original roles. I can even remember some of the classic lines in movies such as Sissi and Waterloo Bridge," says Wang Xuan, a retired engineer and movie lover.

Challenges and opportunities

Sadly, dubbing is losing its appeal to young Chinese moviegoers, because most of them, especially those in first-tier cities, understand English, and they prefer to watch the film in the language in which it was made.

In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, only slightly more than 10 percent of viewers would prefer to watch a foreign movie dubbed in Chinese.

This increasing preference poses a threat to the once renowned Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio, which in its heyday was responsible for dubbing large numbers of films shown on the Chinese mainland.

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