Big in Taiwan: A Tale of Stepping in Internet Doodoo

Sometimes you get recognition for the good reasons and other times for the, shall we say, not so good ones.  This is a story about the latter, but with a happy ending.  Or at least one that didn’t cause any embarrassment.  Well, not too much anyway.

Last Tuesday, July 10th at around midnight PST, I had started to settle into a game of Fallout 3 (a game I’ve restarted three times now, by the way) when a tweet suddenly appeared on my phone.  Of course, that’s nothing particularly odd since I get several retweets, questions, and general social messages every day.  However, what was odd is that it was a response to a review that was posted back in April of this year for the Taiwanese film Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale:

Soon followed by this tweet:

The first tweet I took as the observation of a good internet Samaritan pointing out a simple error that an editor or writer not fluent in the language would probably not catch. I have worn a similar Samaritan cap, helping websites translate Japanese text.  The second tweet, however, was a little more mysterious.  “It is widespread”?   Did that tweet mean the movie was “widespread” (i.e. in theaters across the country) or that the review was widespread (e.g. being passed around among film fans)?  Slightly puzzled, I headed over to the review (which is posted here, by the way, along with the comments mentioned in the first tweet). The situation at that point had become pretty clear: the lead image that I had posted (a duty that, along with editing, posting, and marketing, I assume for all posts on this blog) was one that was created to lampoon the original poster image.

Anyone who uses a computer knows that memes are in abundance and not only in the English speaking countries, but all countries have their own equivalents of worldwide web wackiness like YTMND and Lolcats.  Memes are, in fact, in even greater abundance (and much more cryptic) in totalitarian societies like China where memes are steeped in double entendre and visual metaphor.  Of course, Taiwan is not a totalitarian society, very far from that.  However, they are a country whose localized internet is littered with memes which, much like a minefield, wait for a hapless non-Taiwanese victim to step right in.  In this case, the victim was me.  And, yes, I am being very facetious.

Notice the differences? I didn't!

Anyone who’s read a review on VCinema knows that they follow the same general visual format: review text is interspersed by a lead photo which is almost always the film’s poster, as well as at least one other support image, a still or stills from the film.  Pretty standard stuff.  Images are ideally provided by official sources (e.g. the film’s distributor), but about 80% of the time, I rely on the web.  My method is to Google image search for the film in its native language, pore over results, then whittle down candidates based on the design of the image, especially how it will look with the article, and how frequently it appears in results.  Ironically, I adopted the latter rationale in order to, within reason, safeguard against posting an unofficial image.  Unofficial images, such as homemade screencaps, generally do not look good and can misrepresent or, worse, spoil a film.  My way of thinking was that, if an image has been posted by multiple film sites in the film’s native country, it must be official.  Not a bad rationale, but one that has its flaws.  Of the two images above, the one on the left is the actual Taiwanese poster for the film in question, while the one on the right is the parody and the one I mistakenly ended up posting.  Although the two images are similar at quick glance (which is what I’ll partially use as my excuse), you can spot many of the differences quite easily.  Even the text in the poster is different.  As one commenter, the same who sent the tweets that brought this all to my attention, translated in the comments section, the parody tagline reads “If civilization is to our decency, then I let you see the cunning pride!”  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but have to say it doesn’t sound very Warriors of the Rainbow-like.  Summarily, however, I didn’t catch these differences despite having a pretty good track record with Spot the Differences posted in Highlights magazine.

So, you may be thinking, “Big deal, you posted a bad image.  That probably happens a million times a day on the internet with far racier results.”  Well, here’s the punchline: remember the “widespread in Taiwan” tweet?  Well, it just so happens that someone at Yahoo Film News in Taiwan caught word of our error, probably by also conducting a Google Image search, and decided it was worthy of a news laugh.  Their article is here.  And, of course, word didn’t stop there because apparently even the director got word of the error and wrote about it here.  To our fortune, neither of these articles was inflammatory in any way.  They essentially just say that, though the image has circulated around Taiwanese sites (presumably one of which I pulled the image from), this was the first time a foreign website had run it.  I wouldn’t have blamed the director if he had been upset, but luckily, he just laughed and hoped that we would post the correct image, which I have already done, replacing it with the poster that was created for the film’s North American release.   I have also explained the whole situation and apologized to Adam Hartzell, the author of the review (which is very good, so please read it), but being  real-life friends, we just had a good laugh about it.

Besides the fortune of not being dragged over Taiwanese coals, VCinema did get its fifteen minutes of fame as a result: a healthy three day bump from curious gawkers that has since subsided.  To put numbers in perspective, our site generally only gets 200-300 visits a day, on par for a very small niche film site with essentially no budget or time to advertise, but a laugh compared to larger sites like Amazon and Google, not to mention peer sites like Twitch who draw in far more visits.  So, what did we learn from all of this?  Well, as an editor, I could certainly drag out “be more careful about what you post on the internet” because no matter how big or small your site is, someone will notice and that situation might not end up as fortunately as this one did.  I pride myself on being relatively error-free and usually spend a good amount of time on articles, correcting errors and helping our writers shape and mold their writing. However, I think there’s an even more obvious lesson; an adage that speaks to situations of this nature all too well in our information-driven society: controversy, no matter how big or small, sells.