Broken Trail is an award-winning, made-for-TV Western about two men on a horse drive who rescue five young Chinese women who are being sold by human traffickers.
Chinese is spoken at several points in the film. One scene (clip below) of particular interest is when Robert Duvall’s character decides to number the young women (communication between the parties is not yet good enough for him to get their names), going from one to five. The eldest realizes what he is doing and explains to the others (“他在给我们号码 / 他在給我們號碼 / tā zài gěi wǒmen hàomǎ”), one of whom vehemently objects to being “four.” ”Four” is generally considered to be an unlucky number in Chinese because 四 sì is a near homophone of 死 sǐ “to die” (see Wikipedia on Numbers in Chinese Culture).
It’s kind of interesting that the closed captions include a translation of the proposed number four saying “I don’t want to die,” and the explanation that four is unlucky, but don’t translate some of the other the Chinese in the scene. I’m not even sure how I got the captions in the clip (they only appear on WordPress, not in the file before uploading). It’s unclear how people watching without captions are meant to understand this scene if they are unaware of the language-based superstition.
The movie is quite good, by the way, especially for those of us who like Westerns and Chinese. Great to watch with reduced guilt when you should be studying. Also worth watching is the making-of documentary on the DVD. For more on the historical background, see the historical information on the official site.
Other TV portrayals of Chinese people in the American Old West that come to mind are the itinerant ex-monk Kwai Chang Caine (actually half-Chinese) in Kung Fu and the cook Hop Sing in Bonanza. If you know of others, please leave a comment.
Note: This short clip is displayed for educational purposes. If you are the rights holder and would like it removed, please contact me.