Adapting video games for the silver screen is no easy feat, and there are few that have succeeded on this front. The Monster Hunter live-action film is certainly not one of them, with the team having landed themselves in boiling water after a racist joke caused China to pull the work out of theatres.
The scene in question involved an Asian soldier throwing out the line “Chi-knees” in response to a prompt by his American companion, “What kind of knees are these?”. Interpreted to be a racist insult, the attempted pun did not go over well with the Chinese audience, and has since invited much furore from the community.
“Even though subtitles come with the films sent for approval, censors you need to listen carefully before you pass it. Did you even listen to the dialogue?” Weibo influencer Xiaozhu Nanhai wrote. The disappointment was shared echoed by another user who expressed, “Tencent Pictures has problems too. I don’t believe such a big company would not have English speakers. How did the subtitles group come to this translation? Please investigate them.”
The basis for anger is steeped in a cultural context, with the supposed joke bearing similarity to an old rhyme that goes, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees – look at these,” which conveys a negative and derogatory connotation.
In light of the matter, rapper MC Jin, who plays the Asian soldier in Monster Hunter, has spoken out on his intentions. “It’s a pun, and the way I portrayed the character and the emotion of it is, this is a moment for him to proudly proclaim that he is a Chinese soldier. Not just his knees, but his arms, his head, his heart,” Jin said in an Instagram video. “This has nothing to do with that stupid ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees’…whatever the heck that is.”
According to the man, the scene was supposed to showcase a sense of Chinese heritage pride. “For anybody that misunderstood or thought it was meant to be belittling, I sincerely apologize, I do. My whole career, if nothing else, I’ve been vocal and proud of my heritage. I stand against discrimination, racial discrimination, of any kind, anywhere, anytime,” continued Jin, who had previously spoke out against racism towards Asian-Americans.
It’s likely that the original meaning was misconstrued due to poor translation. A subsequent sub in the movie reads, “Do you know what’s underneath my knees? Gold,” but it appears to be a nod – albeit skewed in accuracy – to the proverb “There is gold underneath a man’s knees,” which means a refusal to kneel down or yield to others.
The scene has reportedly been removed from the movie in China, and it’s not known whether other countries will receive the same treatment. Let this be a lesson learned in cultural awareness, sensitivity, and accuracy.