|Jimmy Wang Yu's sacrificial suicide in The Assassin (Chang Cheh, 1967). Entering a "symbolic" economy beyond the logic of rational exchange and accumulation.|
From the end of the first chapter of Jean Baudrillard's Symbolic Exchange and Death:
"Since it [the system of contemporary society] thrives on my slow death [in labour], I will oppose it with my violent death. and it is because we are living with slow death that we dream of a violent death. Even this dream is unbearable to power." (p.43)
Baudrillard isn't the most trendy philosopher any more, but the passage could be a way of interpreting the "dream of a violent death" proffered in, above all, Chang Cheh films. What matters in these, much more than beating the bad guy, or even winning history, is achieving a glorious death. And it is in such embrace of sacrifice that the films imagine the heroes – often class outsiders – as wresting back their subjectivity. It is also in such gestures that they keep alive the potential to reclaim the future from subjugation and domination.
Here we are back, of course, in the logic of sacrificial expenditure in the mould of Marcel Mauss, set against the accumulative logic of the acquisitive villains of the movies. The gift economy is set against the economy of calculation. Kung fu training as Bataille-esque expenditure.