Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal pre-teaser brought to us a Ranbir Kapoor in a bloodied kurta, single-handedly fighting off scores of masked men in a dimly lit corridor. Many were quick to point out the similarities to the iconic corridor fight in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), which has influenced the choreography of number of cinematic fight scenes over the last two decades, from John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) to Guardians of The Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023). Something about the tight, dingy space of a corridor, and how it compounds on the urgency of the odds (overwhelmingly) stacked against the protagonist, makes for a compelling viewing experience.
As Oldboy turns twenty today, we think it’s the perfect opportunity to look back at some of our favourite corridor action sequences.
Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) has just found out that he has been kept in a private prison for fifteen years. The only thing that stands between him and escape is a corridor full of weapon-wielding guards. In the corridor fight scene to rule them all, our protagonist makes his way through the hallway with only a hammer in hand, slashing through his opponents one-by-one. Reminiscent of a wounded animal, his feral aggression taking the guards by shock. A kick, a stab, a chokehold, Dae-su employs every trick in the book to take them down. At one point, he is overwhelmed and on the ground, a dozen guards raining blows on him. With a roar, he gets to his feet and pushes every single one of them off him, going right back on the offensive. All this while, the camera moves gently along the corridor, a wistful score accompanying the action. The guards finally get one up on Dae-su, as he collapses to the ground with a knife in his back. Just when they think he’s dead, he jumps to his feet, still fighting. Now weary, Dae-su takes a defensive stance, but the guards hesitate to even approach him.
After defeating the last of them, Dae-su, who is now on the other side of the corridor, smiles wryly when the elevator doors open to reveal another batch of armed guards. In the very next shot however, the same elevator door opens and the guards spill out, incapacitated. Dae-su steps over their bodies and makes his way towards freedom. The corridor fight, which was shot in one continuous take, reportedly took three days to film. The messy, imperfect and chaotic nature of the action belies the precise choreography and consideration behind it.
Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a Black Widow, made a spectacular entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe through a corridor action sequence that accentuated her skill as a veteran in the field. In the climax of Iron Man 2, expertly portrayed by Scarlett Johansson with a blend of grace and dignity, Romanoff joins forces with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to infiltrate Hammer Industries. For fans of Black Widow from the comics, Johansson's portrayal of the Red Room's star student was a source of joy. In this beautifully choreographed sequence, Black Widow's combat style unfolds with finesse and athletic charm — eschewing brute force, she executes split-second manoeuvres, and precise slits. She climbs with agility, and expertly traps and strangles each adversary, anticipating their every move. The sequence has hand-to-hand combat and amazing acrobatics which pronounce her position as a worthy addition to a crew that will eventually save the planet. Amidst the chaos, Black Widow, seemingly unfazed by it, elegantly strolls away, casually pepper spraying the last guard. This corridor fight sequence perfectly encapsulates the character's lethal efficiency, and adds a touch of flair to an already fantastic scene.
In Christopher Nolan's Inception, a corridor action sequence is a mind-bending spectacle that challenges the laws of physics, and is also inventive with its approach to the corridor fight sequence trope (although, it allegedly, largely borrows the scene from the Japanese film Paprika (2006)). Within the surreal dreamscape, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Arthur, fights within a spinning, gravity-defying corridor. Nolan deftly employs practical effects, creating an elevated action sequence. The entire hallway rotates, plunging Arthur and the guards of Robert’s (Cillian Murphy) dream. It forces the characters to adapt to an ever-changing reality, mirroring the film's exploration of dreams within dreams. As the corridor spins the characters as well as the audience have to grapple with the blurred boundaries between reality and the subconscious.
In the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, we see the eponymous vigilante (played by Charlie Cox), clad in all black, face off against a horde of Russian mobsters in a scene that was directly inspired by Oldboy’s corridor fight, and shot in a single take. Doors go crashing, furniture goes flying but the thugs are no match for Daredevil. As opposed to the steady, side-view of Oldboy, the camera continuously moves across the corridor, giving us different perspectives on the fight. As the mobsters keep coming at him, Daredevil uses the narrow space to his advantage, kicking off from the corridor walls for additional momentum and pinning his opponents against them. Towards the end, the fight moves to one of the adjoining rooms while the camera waits in the corridor, leaving us blind and anticipating the outcome. Despite being exhausted and outnumbered, Daredevil, with his sluggish but persistent moves, finally overpowers his attackers. Much of the combat in the sequence is hand-to-hand, lending to its raw, urgent quality.
John Woo's A Better Tomorrow not only set the gold standard for intense corridor shootouts, but also laid the foundation for a stylistic template that would resonate throughout Woo's illustrious career. This iconic scene features all of Woo's distinctive directorial signatures — dramatic gunplay, slow-motion shots, and a cascade of bullets that rain down like a relentless storm. The tight confines induce a sense of claustrophobia, leaving characters with nowhere to escape, yet providing ample room for bodies to be sent flying by the impact of each gunshot. The masterful use of slow-motion serves as a visual amplifier, accentuating every bullet discharged in a balletic display of violence that is both poetic and brutal. The constraints of the corridor intensify the emotional stakes, immersing the audience in the visceral experience of the characters entangled in this lethal dance.
Half an hour into the first film adaptation of James Dashner’s popular dystopian trilogy, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the Gladers stand at the mouth of the maze — its imposing walls towering over them. Two of their friends who entered the Maze earlier in the day are yet to return. Once the Maze closes for the night, those inside are left to the mercy of the biomechanical monsters known as Grievers. A roar echoes in the distance, a brisk burst of air washes over the waiting boys, and the Maze doors slowly begin to inch closer.
Just then, Thomas catches a glimpse of Minho (Ki Hong Lee) carrying a wounded Alby (Aml Ameen) on his back, barely able to walk towards the entrance. The Maze is almost closed now, leaving a small passage that grows ever narrower. As Minho struggles to drag Alby to safety, Thomas makes an impulsive decision — he slips into the closing Maze, running as fast as he can as the walls bear down on him. Coupled with the intense music and claustrophobic cinematography, the scene is sure to make your heart race. With a grunt, Thomas falls to the ground on the other side, trapped in the Maze. “Good job. You just killed yourself,” says Minho sardonically. After all, no one has survived a night in the Maze, its long, inscrutable corridors filled with dangers unknown.