5 Cryptic Movie Tattoos (They Didn't Think We'd Translate)

We know as well as anyone that tattoos are an instant shortcut to becoming cool, but it's really embarrassing when someone points out that the Chinese character on your shoulder that you were told said "honor" actually says "herpes." Well, it turns out that the makeup people on movie sets make mistakes like this all the time, such as ...

#5. The Tattoos in The Mummy Give Away Plot Points the Wearers Don't Know About

The events of The Mummy are set in motion when the High Priest Imhotep bangs the pharaoh's mistress and murders the pharaoh. The pharaoh's male stripper bodyguards, the Medjai, covered in a lot of douchebaggy facial tattoos, catch Imhotep and punish him by mummifying him alive.

They then make their jobs unreasonably difficult for themselves by granting Imhotep the power to come back to life and then guarding his corpse for 3,000 years to ensure he never does so.


"It's called job security."

What the Tattoos Really Say:

With a movie like The Mummy, you might assume that the tattoos are random markings the costume or makeup people applied to look cool. But as you're about to find out in this article, there is almost always a real attempt to make foreign-language tattoos say something meaningful. It's just almost never correct.

So when translated, the meaning of the Medjai's tattoos initially seems reasonable -- they have references to Imhotep's name and some kind of secret city in the desert.


Made all the more secret by having it tattooed on his face, of course.

Specifically, the approximate English sounds for these five characters are I, M, H, T and P -- Imhotep.


And as for their rippling pecs:


... they add a reference to needing to silence something hidden in the desert. It actually makes perfect sense for a secret society whose job is to keep the secret of an evil, hidden mummy destined to rise again.

The problem is that the movie portrays these guys as having the tattoos while Imhotep was alive.

In other words, before the guy was dead, or a mummy, or cursed to return, they were just a bunch of pharaoh's bodyguards, hanging out with Imhotep while bearing written declarations that they were going to eventually have to kill him and guard his cursed corpse for the next 3,000 years. So we wind up with a scene where the bodyguards all blunder into a murder scene, and are shocked by an event their own tattoos had warned them about. Great job, team!


That ancient Egyptian tattoo artist surely had some tough questions to answer.

#4. Justin Timberlake's Gangster Movie Tattoo Says He Loves Ice Skating

Alpha Dog is 2007 movie that made a murderous, badass gangbanger out of a former member of N*Sync. To make this possible, Justin Timberlake was covered in tattoos to distract attention away from his soft, 13-year-old-boyish features. Like any teenager trying to appear hardass with the minimum amount of intellectual effort, Timberlake's character opts for a menagerie of Catholic imagery, graffiti lettering and Chinese tattoos that he hopes nobody can actually read.


"They say 'squiggle, box, exploding star.' That has great meaning for me."

What the Tattoos Really Say:

Justin Timberlake is declaring his love for ice skating, in Chinese.


He actually asked for synchronized swimming.

The fundamental premise of Alpha Dog is that maintaining a gangster image and lifestyle is essential. But Timberlake's research seems only to have extended as far as picking out the characters that look kind of cool. So instead of choosing words like "stab" or "violence," his body is adorned with words like "feng," "tu," "shui" and "huo," the characters for "wind," "earth," "water" and "fire," just one step short of summoning Captain Planet. But, we suppose all of those elements could be used to kill somebody one way or another, so we can let that slide.

But the characters on his bicep spell out "liubing," the Chinese word for "ice skating."


Yes, the one activity it is impossible to look badass doing, unless it's in the context of a hockey game. If you're ever running from a murderous street gang, by far the best way to escape is to strap on some skates and cross a frozen pond; they won't pursue for fear someone is watching them (try it!).

To be fair, he does have a tattoo on his back of "zui," the character for "crime." So that will make you think twice about messing with him if he stops his pirouette long enough for you to read it.


Skating is only dancing on razor blades, after all.

#3. Waterworld's Map Tattoo Is Off by Several Thousand Miles

In Waterworld, Kevin Costner must protect a small girl from fiendish pirates because her back is tattooed with a "map" to Dryland, the supposed last piece of Earth above water. The problem? It's in Chinese. So, after a whole slew of maritime death and destruction, and after blowing a $200 million budget, Costner and company defeat their enemies, decode the map using a copy of China Airlines magazine and head off to Dryland.


Mankind's last hope is a tramp stamp.

What the Tattoo Really Says:

The idea is that the tattoo is coordinates in Chinese for Mount Everest. Well, that's what they're supposed to be. In reality, Costner's band of adventurers should have spent a long time drifting around the world in confusion, because the tattoo gets it wrong by several thousand miles.


"Hey, if you squint hard enough, the plot starts to make sense."

Once again, there was a genuine attempt to do Chinese coordinates. But it looks like Enola's tattoo was written by an intern who dropped out of introductory Chinese in college (it actually uses a Japanese character in one place instead of a Chinese one, because hell, all those languages are kind of the same, aren't they?). You'd think with their gigantic budget they could have paid a guy ...

Anyway, if we clean it up a little, it should look something like this:


On the left, we have "weidu: bashiliu du, wushiliu fen," or "Latitude: 86 degrees, 56 minutes." On the right, we have "jingdu ershiqi du wushijiu fen," or "Longitude: 27 degrees, 59 minutes."

Now, unfortunately, the biggest mistake of the map is that the coordinate's directions aren't given -- there is no north, south, east or west. As a result, there are four possible points on Earth where this could be. And these points are on opposite sides of the Earth from one another.

Of course, they've still got a 25 percent chance of randomly choosing the correct spot, right? Actually, make that zero percent. On top of everything else, they have longitude and latitude mixed up (Mount Everest is actually at longitude 86 degrees, 56 minutes, not latitude, and latitude 27 degrees, 59 minutes, not longitude).

Getty
"I know we're lost, gang, but I've got plenty of urine-water to keep us alive!"

Fortunately, this is absolutely the only thing about Waterworld that doesn't make any sense.

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