VII.  Pragmatic Reading

Scarcity and Value

It is well understood that in economies large and small – extending to the personal – scarcity increases value.  When applied to film, it is evident that the ordinary or typical may be experienced as documentary.  Film texts that successfully engage the spectator provide opportunities to look at persons, actions, locations or objects to which access is ordinarily restricted.  When ordinary or mundane elements are present, contact with scarce attributes is contrived by such elements as distinctive mise-en-scene, cinematography, acting or narrative contingencies.  Over time, the novelty and scarcity of the cinematic experience has been progressively eroded to the point that film and popular culture now interact in intertextual ways.  In popular culture, the domain of the truly novel has progressively shrunk.  Postmodern eclecticism and globalization bring viewers increasingly into contact with the popular entertainment products of other cultures.  Their momentary unfamiliarity and relative scarcity may establish value as sub-cultural phenomena – perhaps before ultimately being assimilated as full intercultural products.  Accordingly, the rise in viewership of HK films among a sub-culture of Western viewers may be regarded as both postmodern eclecticism and a logical extension of the search of novelty, scarcity and the unfamiliar.

Jade Leung in Black Cat and Gigi Leung in A War Named Desire
Certain other scarce attributes enhance value.  Physically attractive people are statistically uncommon, hence the opportunity to look at them on screen is rewarding.  Performance excellence (in all the arts) has scarcity value.  For aficionados of action genres, HK films offer the additional scarce attribute of verisimilitude.  Martial artists and stunt players perform with an intensity seldom seen beyond these genre films, generating comparable excitement, and female performers may be cast in such roles.  By ignoring conventions of femininity these films may actually heighten attention to this (Note 4).   Finally, HK films offer the Western viewer distinctive opportunities to negotiate readings of action texts in markedly different ways than dominant Hollywood conventions allow.  In HK film heroes do not always triumph, and patriarchal power or even conventions of narrative continuity may be overturned in a carnivalesque exegesis.  Familiar conventions of taste often do not apply.  Once again, that which is unusual may accumulate scarcity value – defined relative to dominant conventions of the domestic entertainment culture.
Michiko Nishiwaki - My Lucky Stars and Angie Cheung in Body Weapon
One consequence is that certain HK films may acquire a “cult” status in Western markets while perhaps not being as highly regarded in their home market.  Another likely consequence is that the preferences of experienced HK film viewers in Western markets can be expected to evolve.  With increased familiarity and exposure, other filmic attributes may be seen as having scarcity value, and viewers may find themselves once more drawn toward instances of fine acting or cinematography.  Such dynamic, relativistic factors that establish preference and drive its trajectory have very little to do with either cultural or gender identification.

Notes:  Pragmatic Reading

4. Patricia Holland, “When a woman reads the news.”  In Baehr & Dyer, op. cit., pp. 133 – 150, esp. pp. 133 – 138.