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 ...
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.
Related: Mummies Got Packed With Mummy Snacks
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.
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:
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).
"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.
Viggo Mortensen's Gangster Movie Tattoo Renders the Plot Moot
In Eastern Promises, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is an undercover cop posing as a tattooed driver and body disposer for the Russian mafia in London. In both the film and reality, a Russian prison tattoo is an elaborate code that tells one's entire criminal history. The film depicts Nikolai's rise from a lowly errand boy to the boss of the mob, which doesn't make a lot of sense, considering ...
What the Tattoos Really Say:
... his tattoos identify him as the boss of the mob right from the beginning, which should probably have gotten him murdered for his gall and ignorance as soon as he took his shirt off with someone else in the room.
"Yeah, you're cute. We'll keep you if you do a little dance for us."
In the creation of Eastern Promises, director David Cronenberg said his team consulted a documentary on Russian prison tattoos called The Mark of Cain. From this documentary, we learn just about everything we need to know to read Nikolai's criminal history. For example, the church cupolas on Nikolai's back signify the number of convictions he has:
"Those GBH incidents are Pope-approved."
And a skull he has is like this guy's, and he says it means he's been convicted of murder:
Russian mob guys have a lot of respect for fat goths.
But what about that giant crucifix on his chest, the centerpiece of the entire ink ensemble? According to the guy in the documentary, it means he is a "Thief-in-the-Law," which in Russian mob slang makes him basically the Godfather of the Russian mafia. That should be news to the panel of mob bosses who employ him as a lowly chauffeur who snips the fingers off of dead bodies. How did they miss that one?
As if that wasn't bad enough, Nikolai has another, even more ill-advised tattoo that can be seen here when they do a close-up on his wrist as he's stabbing the shit out of some guy.
What could be worse than falsely pulling rank on a panel of mob bosses in a closed room? The phrase on his wrist reads "Don't trust, don't fear, don't ask." What's that mean? Not much, except it's the title of a pop song by Russian pop duo t.A.T.u.
There's nothing wrong with showing your love for fake lesbians.
In Legion, God Is Bad at Meaningful Tattoos
In Legion, God grows tired of mankind's warring and decides, for some reason seemingly against His usual values, to abort some lady's baby. The Archangel Michael, who still has hope for humanity, has to fight off hordes of baby-killing angels using submachine guns to make some kind of point to God.
"I'm gonna beat some peace into you, human."
We're not going to pretend that the details of the plot make a whole lot of sense, but the point is that God and Michael's entire beef with humanity is that we just keep invading each other's countries and stealing each other's land, and God is sick of it. Michael's body is covered in mystical angel tattoos written in a made-up angel language called Enochian that he says are instructions for the baby's protector.
What the Tattoos Really Say:
Unsurprisingly, Michael has Bible passages written on his chest. But oddly, given the circumstances, it's a part of the Bible where God is killing some dudes for not killing enough people or stealing enough land.
It also provides instructions on how to put a shirt on over wings.
The tattoos are in a made-up language, but it's also one that's really easy to decode. The code first appears in the title sequence scrawled across the letters of the title, and here we can see that the so-called celestial language of the angels is just English with a basic character substitution, reading backward from bottom to top.
The text in the title is apparently supposed to be a quote from Psalms 34:11, "Come, ye children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Actually, due to a bad cut-and-paste job from the graphics department, it actually says, "Children come ye child will teach I will the fear of the you the fear," which does kind of confuse the message.
So what about Michael's tats? They're not actually instructions on how to protect a baby, as Michael said they were. They don't so much as tell him how to change a diaper. It actually reads, "For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed." It's Deuteronomy 2:15 from the American King James Bible. Because everyone knows the real Bible is American.
"And verily the car did explode, and Moses walked away with nary a backward glance, for he was badass."
This passage says that God smote some of Moses' men for not invading the Holy Land as commanded. And it's actually the exact opposite of what Michael said humanity needed. In fact, Michael says specifically in the movie, "My love, my hope for mankind, was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed ... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books." Yup, Michael is all New Testament and shit. He's all about love, not war, which is strange coming from a guy whose neck tattoo reads "BURN."
"-ing love. I'm a massive Elvis fan."
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