When minor characters who are also ethnic minorities start talking among themselves in their native tongues, they sometimes take advantage of their invisibility to say things. Sometimes they break the Fourth Wall and start ranting about the movie director. Sometimes, they spout random obscenities or natter about their lousy lunch. It’s all in not-English, so whatever they say doesn’t matter! And the actual translations of their lines can be a secret source of hilarity in films where actors are instructed to use a Gratuitous Foreign Language (GFL) in order to make a scene sound more authentic. When some Native Americans cast in Westerns were told to speak their own language to add some authenticity, these actors took the opportunity to crudely editorialize about their director, which allegedly resulted in Native American audiences (in)explicably cracking up laughing during scenes that were meant to be dramatic.
Bonus “so that’s what was going on” from Snowpiercer:
“Snowpiercer,” 2014. The native language of this dystopian thriller is French, as it’s based on a graphic novel, “Le Transpercerneige,” 1982, released last year as 설국열차 in South Korea. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, it features Chris Evans as its lead. Despite its French and South Korean origins, the film’s dialogue is mostly English. Writer Emily Yoon saw this film when it was first released in Korea last year, and explains there’s a terrific joke that goes untranslated on two levels: When Curtis (played by Chris Evans) first encounters Namgung Minsu (남궁민수, played by Song Kang-ho), Evans keeps calling him ‘Nam,’ to which Song responds: “‘남궁’까지가 성이고 ‘민수’ 가 이름이다 이 무식한 새끼야.” (“‘Namgung’ is my surname and ‘Minsu’ is the name, you ignorant bastard.”) Because there are many languages being spoken in the closed universe of the train, the people riding it use an interpreter/translator device. However, the device is stumped because he has a rare two-syllable family name — he should be called either ‘Namgung’ or ‘Minsu,’ but never just ‘Nam.’ The translator machine can’t make sense of this, and so as Song rants, the machine remains silent. So the entire insult goes untranslated for the movie audience as well.