The Hallway Fight: Daredevil and OldBoy

Before bed last night, I watched a couple of movie/show reviews on YouTube, including one for Daredevil. I’d watched a few episodes, but ultimately found it a bit boring and repetitive. Plus, I really like crime procedurals, and “beat the shit out of the guy until he reveals the next clue” is not a procedural, no matter what fans of the show seem to be claiming.

But there was one scene in Daredevil that was absolutely wonderful, and that I will probably still be raving about years from now; specifically, the hallway fight scene in the second episode of the first season. It is just gorgeous, a joy to watch even without the context of the show around it, even if we don’t care much about the character or the context. It’s just a visual treat.

Daredevil

This, of course, made me think of the gorgeous hallway fight scene in OldBoy, which it is clearly drawing from (right down to the green colour scheme), and what it is about those two scenes that is so attractive to me.

So, of course, I rewatched both on YouTube and gave it some thought.

The colours: This is an obvious one. Both make excellent use of a monochromatic scheme, which is just visually appealing in general. As an added treat, Daredevil puts a red light shining under the door where his goal is located, contrasting with the green and serving as a visual reminder, throughout the whole scene, of what he’s fighting for.

The humanity: In both scenes, the characters are human. The main characters get tired, and we see them stagger, we see them pant, we see them lean against the wall or take longer to get up so that they can have a quick rest before the next hit. And that’s another important part – they actually get hit. In OldBoy, the main character is repeatedly thrown to the ground and we, the audience, don’t know if he’s going to get up again as the baddies crowd around to kick him. Heck, he goes through about half of the fight with a knife sticking out of his back. In Daredevil, it’s clear that Murdock is absolutely exhausted and hurt. By the end, he can barely stand. Yet in both cases, we see the triumph of will as they keep getting back up, over and over again, to fight on. It feels real, and it’s inspiring, and it’s so much more compelling than the Superman types who either never take a hit to begin with, or who plough on unaffected by them.

The humanity, part two: Another important piece of this is that the baddies are human as well. None of this one-shot-you’re-dead business. They can’t just give a baddie one punch to the head and the guy goes down, unmoving for the rest of the scene. The baddies remain in the shot, moaning, in pain, and sometimes getting back up.

The confined space: There’s something very intimate about the use of a hallway, so that the main character is crowded into a sea of enemies. This also means that the characters are always doing something, and attacks are coming from every direction. Visually, it means that there’s more opportunity for choreography, as the characters use the walls and each other to leap into the air, spin themselves around, and use every part of their body to land hits in many directions in quick succession.

The steady camera: Another feature of the confined space is that the eye can take in the whole fight at once, aided by a steady camera and long take. It’s so much more satisfying than the up-close jumpcut technique that’s far more popular (likely because jumpcuts make it easier to use stunt doubles). I get that the jumpcuts are meant to convey the confusion of battle, but they do so at the expense of visual beauty (and, in my opinion, cause an overload effect where I am too confused to be able to worry about the protagonist’s safety). But in OldBoy and Daredevil, we see everything that is happening, and it lets us be both in the moment and out of it enough to appreciate the beauty of the movement.

The off-screen: Not really something OldBoy does (except for the very wise choice to off-screen the elevator portion of the fight), but the use in Daredevil was exquisite. As the camera flows up and down the hallway in a beautiful, almost oceanic movement, the fight itself weaves in and out of our field of vision. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this so much – I guess I need to give it some more thought – but it was just wonderful.

The music: In both movies, the fight scene has a very muted, tonal soundtrack. It provides a little extra emotional resonance (with a few heroic swells, as in OldBoy), but largely sticks to the background. This allows the energy of the visuals to dominate (not to mention the sickening thok-thok of the punches).

I should also given an honourable mention to the spinning hallway fight scene in Inception (what is it about the hallways??). Again, we have the fixed camera, the confined space, the use of environment, and that flow of movement of battlers through the camera’s field of vision (in that case, of course, in a more three-dimensional sense). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Christopher Nolan got some of his inspiration for that scene from OldBoy, actually.

An interesting difference between Daredevil and OldBoy that I noticed was the presence of a goal. In OldBoy, the field of vision is from the side, so that the main character’s goal isn’t seen at all until it is reached (making the fight seem endless, and raising the stakes when added to the main character’s expressions of fatigue). In contrast, the goal in Daredevil is specifically highlighted with the use of red lighting. I don’t prefer one over the other, but I did find the difference interesting.