Since the 18th century, puns in English have been often described as "the lowest form of humor." A pun makes use of homonyms, similarly sounding words which have very different meanings. For example "here: and" hear"are homonyms, just as "their" and "there" are homonyms.
It seems to me as an editor and subber of K dramas, the use of puns for humor is many times greater than its use in English entertainment. About 65% to 70% of Korean words are derived from Chinese which is a multi-tonal language in which the same phoneme spoken in a different pitch may have a very different meaning for the same phoneme in a different tone. Korean is no longer a tonal language but the root meanings from Chinese remain attached to the phoneme. As a result, for example ga, which is the first syllable in Korean, has seven entirely different root meanings derived from Chinese. The problem is compounded with "native Korean" which comprises about 30% of Korean which adds two more root meanings to ga. So the Korean language provides a rich source for anyone wishing to create a pun.
Korean screenwriters seem to love to add humor by using puns which must seem very clever and funny to native speakers. However, when we subtitle the pun, what happens? Suppose the pun involves the use of the word bae -- some of the meanings are stomach, boat, pear, and multiple (as in double, triple, etc).
Hearing a pun in the dialogue, the subtitler does the following:
1. Subtitle more or less literally with no explanation, knowing that the viewer is going to see it as a "non sequitur" I.e., it will make no sense in the context of the conversation.
2. Subtitle more or less literally with a translator's note (TN) explaining that it is a pun. But if you need to explain a joke, it's not funny anymore. And does the viewer need any language lesson in a romantic comedy?
3. Use some creativity to think of a clever English pun with the same "feeling" as the Korean and know that with high probability, the other language subbers are not going to be able to translate the English pun and make a pun in their own language. (Note-- usually our Korean to English subbers "flag" the pun by saying "word play" or "same sounding words")..
4. Post a note to channel manager or chief editor to delete the segment as the subtitle is not going to make sense to non-Koreans. Viewers, of course, will hear the Korean and wonder what they are missing.
So what do you think is the best course to follow with puns and why?