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Subtitles Versus Dubbing: What’s The Best Way To Watch Kdramas?

BY Joan MacDonald | Jun 18, 2013 11:15 AM EDT


The recent Chinese dubbing of the number one melodrama "Missing You," starring Park Yoo Chun and Yoon Eun Hye, revives an interesting question. Should kdramas be dubbed? Obviously they are already being dubbed into dozens of languages, but is that the best way to watch them?

The heart-wrenching drama, "Missing You," was so popular in Korea that Chinese audiences were eager to see it and many people wanted to see it dubbed. A special invitation was extended to Park Yoo Chun to join in the dubbing. Park was flattered but admitted it would be a challenge since he only knew a few lines of the language and found it difficult to pronounce properly.

Only a few of his dubbed lines were placed in different episodes. Those who heard them said he did a good job, but a Chinese actor read most of his drama lines.  Since his intense acting was part of what made the drama so compelling, it is hard to imagine anyone else doing as good a job.

No matter how willing Korean actors are to supply foreign language dialogue, most will only be able to contribute a few lines when the show is dubbed. There was also talk of "Missing You" being shown in the U.S., with the dialogue dubbed into English. Will Park Yoo Chun, who attended school in the U.S. for a few years, supply dialogue for that version too? And how will the remainder of the drama sound in English? It's hard to imagine an English-speaking actor saying the lines with the same fervor.

While a good job of dubbing can make it easier for foreign audiences to understand a story, it also removes much of the flavor of the original drama. Netizens have in the past had mixed reactions to the idea of dubbing kdramas. Some say that they are grateful for dubbing because they cannot bear to read subtitles. Some say it "kills kdramas" and "dubbing should not be allowed." Others say anything dubbed in another language is obviously not going to be as good.

One plus to dubbing could be that it introduces foreign audiences to kdramas. Dubbing dramas in a familiar language could interest those who speak the language to see the drama with its original actors voicing the dialogue. For example, a Spanish dubbed version of "Queen of Housewives" recently enjoyed huge popularity in Cuba and promoted interest in seeing more kdramas. A dubbed Portuguese version of the same drama attracted attention in Brazil. Hundreds of kdramas have been dubbed into Filipino, including "Cinderella's Sister," "Goong" and "My Girlfriend is a Gumiho." Subtitled versions are also popular there.

Subtitles versus dubbing? How do you feel about this issue? Would you prefer to read subtitles or hear the drama in your own language? And how else are you going to learn Korean, if you can't watch kdramas in their original language?

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