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Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Gang Gary Xu writes over at sensesofcinema about remakes and specifically the new east-asian remakes such as The Grudge, The Ring, etc:

Remaking is therefore Hollywood's way of outsourcing. Outsourced are the jobs of assistant producers who are the initial script screeners, of the personnel involved in the scripting process, of supporting crew for various details during production, of marketing team, and, increasingly, of directors. Sooner or later, the unions within the Hollywood system will come to realise the outsourcing nature of remaking. But at least for now, the remaking is making Hollywood leaner, stronger, more efficient, more profitable, and more dominant than ever. This is an irreversible but well-disguised trend. The changed ethnicity serves well to disguise this trend: as much as the glamour of Hollywood star system makes people forget that cinema is a big industry, the Caucasian faces in the remakes cover up the significant contribution of East Asia as the provider of intensive labour required by the film industry.

The title of Ringu is indicative of the gains and losses of remaking as outsourcing. Originally named The Ring, this original must yield the “original” title to the remake and is forced to use the Japanese transliteration of “ring” as its “authentic” title. The Japanese film industry might have gained recognition and a small share of the remake's profit, but the gain for the “native”, symbolised by the letter “u” added to “ring”, is precisely what has been lost: the original ethnicity, the “aura”, the intellectual property, and the identity and history of the entire national film industry. How is this “loss by gaining” any different from outsourcing in computer industry? Through outsourcing labour intensive jobs such as software engineering, American hi-tech industry is able to sustain its remarkable growth while at the same time generating a new white-collar middle class in Shanghai and Calcutta. China and India have benefited greatly from this kind of outsourcing in terms of urbanisation, Westernisation, improvement in living standards; but the gain can never compensate for the losses: failure to develop their own software industries and intellectual properties; reliance on American trade and labour policy; and vulnerability to the high cost of the repackaged end product such as Microsoft Windows.

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