Mongolian Ping Pong

July 26th, 2007

Watched a film last night. Actually, I watched three. lzh only managed two, because the first one I started watching while she was still on her way home from work. But that first one was the coolest by far. As you may perhaps have guessed, it was called Mongolian Ping Pong in English, or 绿�地 in Chinese, directed by �浩/Ning Hao. Yes, that Ning Hao. Unfortunately, as you may have noticed by following all those links, the Chinese Movie Database does not have a lot of information on either the film or the director.

Anyway, it’s a cool film that follows a group of Mongolian kids way, way, way out on the grasslands, so far out everybody speaks Mongolian and some poor bugger has to hold a beer can and coat hanger tv aerial way up high at the end of a pole at a specific angle for them to get even the haziest tv signal. And they seem to be living a more or less traditional semi-nomadic herding life. And they have a portrait of Genghis Khan in the yurt. Needless to say, the scenery is amazingly beautiful. One of the boys finds a ping pong ball in the stream one day, and, never having seen a ping pong ball or heard of ping pong or many other things, the kids try to figure out what it is.

Well, I was about to spoil the whole film for you, but I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you about a few little things in this film I found interesting:


The film was entirely in Mongolian, with Chinese and English subtitles (cheap DVD, you got both sets of subtitles at the same time, no choice). At first I was a little confused about where the film was actually set. Every other Mainland Chinese film I’ve seen has the characters speaking Putonghua, with at most a local accent and a few local words, but this was a Chinese film entirely in Mongolian. The continued use of Mongolian script suggested it was indeed in China’s Inner Mongolia, as Mongolia switched to Cyrillic ages ago [tangent- the wikipedia article on Mongolian script seems to be blocked for some reason. Odd], but it took me right up until the local cop’s ute (pick up truck) came into enough focus for me to see “è?‰åŽŸ” emblazoned on the side of the vehicle for me to be fully convinced this was happening inside China.

Also, having both Chinese and English subtitles running at the same time made for some interesting comparison. Whoever did the English subtitles should not have been paid for that mess. Don’t get me wrong, the subtitles were certainly useable, but comparing the English and the Chinese suggested that the translator didn’t really understand the appropriate usage of such words as ‘fuck’, and sprinkled that word through the subtitles in places where the Chinese suggested a milder word would’ve been more appropriate.

I do feel sorry for the translator, though, despite his weak grasp of English swear words. One major part of the film played on the kids’ misinterpretation of the Chinese word 国家ç?ƒ- the kids, having never seen so much as the outside of a school, interpreted this to mean that the ping pong ball they had in their hands belonged to the nation and should be returned. Hilarity ensued. Well, actually, it was pretty funny. Anyway, 国家ç?ƒ literally means ‘national ball’, but really means ‘national sport’. But how the hell could you translate that joke adequately anyway?

But does that national ball joke work in Mongolian? Or should I assume that the script was written in Chinese then translated? Or would a Mongolian speaker find that episode just as funny, but for slightly different reasons? After all, the kids had gotten the idea that their ping pong ball was The National Ball from their misinterpretation of a tv programme, so would a Mongolian speaker laugh at the evident mistranslation from Chinese into Mongolian?

The Police:

Part of my confusion over where exactly this film was taken place was due to the local cop and his ute and their first couple of appearances, when both he and the ute where to far in the background and out of focus to be seen clearly. But when finally a scene with the cop and his ute came up close enough to be seen clearly, the confusion was ended. Part of that was the cop’s uniform: Once he appeared close enough to see, it was clearly a Chinese uniform, but one that looked like what the Armed Police would wear if they were doing regular police work instead of standing around outside government buildings and diplomatic missions.


Genghis Khan’s portrait was mounted very prominently in the yurt. A certain chairman was conspicuously absent.

Good film. Watch it.

Comments are closed.