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テレビをつけたら、昔見た映画をやっていた。

Can someone explain what the やっていた means in this context?

1 - At the time when I turned on the TV, an old movie that I already watched was playing?

or

2 - At the time when I turned on the TV, an old movie that I already watched I watched it again?

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Your first interpretation is correct. This やる is 演る{やる}. See here:

to perform; to play; to act
​See also 演じる, often used in the popular music industry

I think it usually occurs in kana, as opposed to kanji.

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  • Interesting. Never knew of that やる.
    – istrasci
    Sep 8 '21 at 19:14
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    Also, this brings up the interesting question of in what circumstances is やる transitive or intransitive (assuming both を and が are grammatical).
    – kandyman
    Sep 8 '21 at 20:54
  • @kandyman Great point. I assumed it was ambitransitive in this usage. が indeed occurs.
    – Eddie Kal
    Sep 8 '21 at 21:04
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In this context, やっていた translates as 'was playing' or 'was on (TV)'.

By the way, since 昔 is modifying 見た and not 映画 directly, it is not the movie that is being described as old, but rather when the action of viewing it happened. Then again, if it was a long time ago then the movie also has to be old. But technically speaking, I think this would be better:

テレビをつけたら、昔見た映画をやっていた。
When I turned on the TV, there was a movie on that I had seen a long time ago.

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  • Does 昔 really need to mean "a long time ago"? In phrases like 昔の話し, it seems it just means "earlier" or "previous". So, wouldn't also be fair to translate this as "When I turned on the TV, there was a movied playing that I'd previously seen."?
    – A.Ellett
    Sep 8 '21 at 19:05
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    @A.Ellett I suppose 'a long time ago' is a relative term, but I don't think you'd use 昔 for something that happened last week or last month. And I think using 昔 as opposed to a construction like -たことがある is a way to emphasize the amount of time that had passed. But my point was that either way, 昔 is not directly modifying 映画.
    – kandyman
    Sep 8 '21 at 20:38
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    Thank you. I definitely got your point. Your emphasis was completely appropriate. I was just curious with 昔. Thank you for your feedback.
    – A.Ellett
    Sep 8 '21 at 20:42
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Let me provide an answer from a bit different angle from the other two.

This sentence pattern 〜たら〜ていた is used when you say that you found something in a particular state when you did something. It must be describing some kind of state, rather than a one-time action, because the verb of the main clause, やる in your example, is used in the ている form. Unless you happen to find yourself in a state of unconsciously doing something with a movie the moment you turn on the TV, this verb must be referring to an act by someone else.

So, your first interpretation is the correct one.

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