Monday, February 8, 2016

I asked "Chinatown" screen writer Robert Towne to translate Jake's Cantonese curse to Khan the butler -- here's what he wrote me


Ask my wife Karen or me, "What's the greatest movie ever made?" and you won't have to wait long for this reply.

In addition to our admiration for every aspect of the film, we think Chinatown includes some parallels to my father's bizarre history, for example, wide-ranging corruption disguised by the veneer of respectability and questionable cases involving drowning.

And how's this for one degree of separation?

Per a 2014 award-winning Hollywood Reporter expose, Jack Nicholson -- who plays private eye Jake Giddes -- contributed $25,000 for the Heimlich Institute's horrific experiments in which vulnerable Chinese AIDS patients were infected with malaria. 

Although plenty has been written about legendary screenwriter Robert Towne's Oscar-winning script, here's a question we've never been able to answer.

What's the translation of this Cantonese curse that Jake spits at Khan (James Hong), butler to Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), as he barges into the house shortly before she divulges the story's darkest revelation?

Via Gregg Mitchell who handles communications at the Writers Guild of America, West, I asked Mr. Towne what the curse meant and for any related information he'd like to add.

Via an October 31, 2015 forwarded by Gregg:
Dear Peter.

The phrase came from Khan (to Nicholson), which we we're told meant something like 'go fuck yourself.' Hope this satisfies.

Best, Robert
In a follow-up, Mr. Towne explained that the idea to include it came from actor James Hong.

I decided to hold this item until Chinese New Year which begins today.

To Robert Towne and Gregg Mitchell, thanks for your help and...