Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If I had a hammer...

I've evolved into a budding aficionado of Korean cinema in recent years, but for some strange reason I had never got around to watching Park Chan-Wook's epic and disturbing Oldboy. Thankfully, this situation is no more. It ain't for everyone though.

Undoubtedly, a highlight of the film is this visceral fight scene which casts an everyday carpentry tool in a new light. There is so much to like about this scene, and it has plenty of little nuances that reveal themselves on subsequent viewings. I love the ebb and flow of the brawl, how the tide turns and then turns again. The gang are so much more than fodder to be beaten up. Park reveals them for what they are, low-level thugs who aren't used to a proper fight and are unsure of how to tackle such an unorthodox opponent. Unlike the highly stylised cliches of most fight scenes, it is as ugly, raw and brutal as it should be. The musical backdrop is unusual for such a sequence, but it works perfectly.

One of the greatest fight scenes ever committed to film? Without a doubt, for my money. But judge for yourself.  Word is that this scene was shot all in 1 take, but took 3 days and 17 attempts to get it right.

That's Choi Min-sik playing Oh Dae-su, the damaged man out for revenge on those who imprisoned him for no apparent reason.



Of course, once someone creates something truly great, everyone wants to rip it off. Steven Spielberg was planning a remake of Oldboy featuring Will Smith, but fortunately the project was called off due to threats of legal action over the rights (Oldboy is originally based on a Japanese manga of the same name).

However, one rip-off that did get made is Zinda (meaning "Alive"), a Bollywood take on the movie, directed by Sanjay Gupta and starring Sanjay Dutt in the lead role. I haven't seen it and don't plan to (I learned my lesson from suffering through Kaante, the dire Indian remake of Reservoir Dogs). Below is the corresponding fight scene from Zinda. Superficially, it's the same scene, but it's the little touches that spell the difference between the original masterful moment of cinema and this hollow imitation.



As an example; the original Oldboy scene is set in a narrow corridor, which means that logically the gang can only attack Oh Dae-Su one or two at a time. By contrast, in Zinda, it's quite a broad room; why would the gang all hang back and basically line up for their turn? Makes no sense. Fail.

See also:

Movie review: A Dirty Carnival (Biyeolhan Geori)

Movie review: Mother

Infernal Affairs vs The Departed

Listmania: My favourite movies of the 00s

Pulp Fiction in Italian, Turkish, German, Spanish and French

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