Giving voice to Korea’s TV stars: Dubbing may seem easy, but actors prove that it’s no easy task

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Giving voice to Korea’s TV stars: Dubbing may seem easy, but actors prove that it’s no easy task


Voice actors working at Arirang TV’s media content production team add voice-overs to Korean drama series. [ARIRANG TV]

For those who watched the early seasons of the American drama series “The X-Files” in the 1990s in Korea through state-run broadcaster KBS, the voices of lead characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, will always be that of voice actors Lee Gyu-hwa and Seo Hye-jeong.

A similar situation is unfolding for non-Korean viewers tuning into the second season of Korean drama series “Kingdom” on Netflix.

The voices of actors like Ju Ji-hoon and Bae Doo-na have been dubbed by voice actors in many different languages so that Netflix users all around the world can enjoy the show for themselves.

“Kingdom” is subtitled in 29 different languages and dubbed in 13 languages. The dubbed versions include English, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish.

The award-winning Korean film “Parasite” (2019) released dubbed versions in some countries, including Germany and France, for the convenience of local audiences who are not accustomed to reading subtitles.

To voice actors who bring life to their on-screen characters, small things matter.

“An actor is talking while eating kimchi and the sound of mumbling changes depending on what type of kimchi he or she is eating. It could be cabbage kimchi or kkakdugi [made with radish],” said Korean-American voice actor Dorothy Nam, who has been dubbing Korean dramas for the past 10 years.


A scene from Korean drama series “Dr. Romantic” (2016) with English subtitles. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“You can get a precise outcome when the voice actor knows such differences. A high level of understanding of Korean culture is as important as acting skills,” she added.

As more Korean drama series, TV shows and films are reaching out to wider audiences outside of the country, dubbing and subtitling Korean content to foreign languages has become more important than ever before.

Voice-overs are usually done by a group of experts working at content importers overseas, but some are produced here and later exported.

Nam works with the media content production team at Arirang TV and has provided her voice to about 20 drama series including “Descendants of the Sun” (2016).

Arirang TV is based in Seoul and provides news and TV shows in English.

“Including the strict chief nurse Ha Ja-ae, I dubbed 12 characters for the drama series. A voice actor usually plays between five and six characters for a single project.

“English, Russian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian languages are available through the voice acting team at Arirang, and I’m in charge of the whole team and play supporting and extra roles whenever we dub Korean dramas in English,” said Nam.

With the aim of promoting Korean cultural content overseas, the Korea Creative Content Agency sponsors the dubbing projects.

“We offer dubbed and subtitled versions [of drama series] to countries with little access to Korean content, such as the former Soviet Union countries, the Middle East and North African countries free of charge,” said a person who represents the agency.

Dubbing may seem to be as simple as recording voices, but it requires much more work than that.

“There is this scene, in which the male lead asks the female lead, ‘What is your blood type?’ But the question needs to be contextualized in other languages. Otherwise, it could be seen as an emergency. The line was changed into ‘What is your star sign?’” said Nam by referring to a scene from “Descendants of the Sun.”

Most of the voice actors working at Arirang TV are native speakers of their own languages. They are selected through auditions.

Hunter Kohl dubbed the voice of the actor Song Joong-ki who plays the role of Yoo Si-jin in “Descendants of the Sun.”

Kohl is a member of the multi-ethnic K-pop boy group EXP Edition.

Kim Hyung-woo, a producer in the content production team at Arirang TV, said, “What’s more important for us is providing a natural viewing experience to local viewers, so we put more of a priority on acting skills than on whether the voice sounds similar to the original actor.”

Nam said she tries to deliver the overall tone of the people she is representing. “When I dub the voice of Lee Young-ja from the TV show ‘Omniscient Interfering View,’ I try to portray her cheerful personality.”

As the whole world is emphasizing social distancing with the outbreak of the coronavirus, more and more people are using over-the-top (OTT) media services. With the rapid growth of the OTT market, the subtitling and dubbing market is likely to grow even more.

For now, Netflix provides about 10,000 hours of dubbed content in 30 different languages.

Some say dubbing degrades the quality of the original product, but others argue that quality dubbing helps viewers understand the content they are watching better.

Some statistics show that between 70 and 80 percent of Netflix subscribers in the United States choose dubbing over subtitles.


K드라마 숨은 병기 된 더빙…송중기•주지훈 외국 목소리 따로 있다

“드라마 출연자가 김치를 먹으며 말할 때 그게 깍두기냐 배추김치냐에 따라 웅얼대는 소리가 달라지잖아요. 영어로 더빙할 때 성우가 그런 걸 알아야 정확한 연기가 가능해요. 연기력만큼이나 한국문화 이해가 중요하단 얘기죠.”(도로시 남)

1990년대 KBS TV를 통해 미국드라마 ‘엑스파일’을 본 시청자라면, 주인공 폭스 멀더(데이비드 듀코브니)와 데이나 스컬리(질리언 앤더슨)를 더빙 성우 이규화•서혜정의 목소리로 기억할 것이다. 요즘 넷플릭스로 ‘킹덤’을 보는 외국인 시청자들은 주지훈•배두나 등 출연진을 더빙 성우의 목소리로 기억할지 모른다. ‘킹덤2’의 경우 29개 언어 자막 외에 13개 언어(영어•일본어•스페인어 등) 더빙판이 제공되기 때문이다. ‘기생충’ 도 독일•프랑스 등에선 더빙판으로 개봉돼 자막에 익숙지 않은 서구인들의 감상을 도왔다.

한국 영화•드라마•예능프로그램 등이 전 세계로 뻗어가면서 한국어를 외국어로 옮기는 자막•더빙의 중요성도 커지고 있다. 대개 수입국의 전문업체가 맡지만, 국내에서 해당 언어 버전을 만들어 내보내기도 한다. 아리랑TV 미디어 콘텐트제작팀과 함께 일하는 성우 도로시 남(51•재미교포)은 그 분야 베테랑이다. 최근 10년 간 KBS ‘태양의 후예’(2016)등 수십편의 드라마 영어 더빙을 했다.

“송혜교 역할(강모연)은 아니고요.(웃음) 엄격한 수간호사 하자애를 포함해 12개 캐릭터를 했어요. 대부분 성우가 작품당 5~6개 캐릭터를 소화하죠. 아리랑TV 성우팀엔 영어•러시아어•아랍어•베트남어•태국어•인도네시아어가 있는데 저는 전체를 이끌면서 영어 더빙 때 조연•엑스트라를 주로 담당해요.”

최근 3년간 이들이 더빙한 드라마는 ‘낭만닥터 김사부’(아랍어•러시아어) 등 20여개. 한국콘텐츠진흥원이 한류 증대를 목적으로 해외배급 지원사업으로 추진한 것들이다. 진흥원 측은 “한국 콘텐트가 잘 알려지지 않은 구소련 연방국가, 영어권 아프리카 지역, 중동(MENA) 지역 TV(지상파, 케이블, 위성 포함)에 자막 및 더빙 버전을 무상으로 배급한다”고 말했다.

“‘태양의 후예’에서 송중기가 송혜교에게 ‘혈액형이 뭡니까?’ 묻는데, 미국 맥락에선 응급상황 등으로 오해돼요. 미국식으로 ‘별자리가 뭐예요?’로 바꾸죠.”(도로시 남)

아리랑TV 더빙 성우들은 대체로 해당 언어를 모국어로 쓰는 국가 출신 가운데 오디션으로 뽑혔다. ‘태양의 후예’에서 송중기 역(유시진)을 맡은 헌터 콜은 국내에서 활동하는 다국적 K팝그룹 ‘EXP에디션’의 멤버다.

김형우 콘텐트제작팀장(PD)은 “현지 시청자들이 자연스럽게 듣는 게 중요해서, 실제 배우와의 목소리 싱크로율보단 연기력을 우선시한다”고 말했다. 도로시 남은 “‘전지적 참견시점’의 이영자를 더빙할 땐 그의 쾌활한 성격이 잘 전달되게 연기하는 식”이라고 했다.

신종코로나바이러스 감염증(코로나19) 사태로 인해 사람들이 온라인동영상서비스(OTT) 플랫폼에 더 의존하게 되면서 글로벌 유통을 겨냥한 자막•더빙 시장은 더 커질 전망이다. 넷플릭스가 현재 더빙해서 제공하는 콘텐트는 총 1만 시간 이상, 30여개 언어나 된다.

일각에선 더빙이 자막보다 원 콘텐트를 훼손한다고 지적하지만, 잘 된 더빙이 작품 이해를 높인다는 반론도 많다. 특히 미국의 경우 넷플릭스 시청자들이 자막 아닌 더빙 버전을 택하는 비율이 70~80%라는 통계도 있다. 다만 더빙 제작은 자막보다 10배가량 비용이 더 든다.

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