For the foreign film assignment, I watched the Korean film Oldboy, which I thought was spectacular. Within an hour of watching it, I had purchased the film online and re-ordered my Netflix queue to ensure that the film’s pseudo-prequel (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) would arrive shortly. And yet, despite loving the film, I had trouble considering it a film of the horror genre. My initial reaction was that it reminded me greatly of Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill, which was released at roughly the same time (albeit on the other side of the world). Both films featured odd storylines, ultra-violence, and most notably, a narrative centered on revenge. Films of this nature just don’t scream “horror” to me. I’ve always thought of horror movies as either being scary or stupid (but violent). But this may be more of an issue with how I was brought up by the media and society than how the film really should be classified. In fact, this isn’t the first time this semester that I thought a film shouldn’t be called a horror film. Psycho seemed more of a thriller to me than anything, but perhaps that’s because of the difference between when it was made and when we watched it. Back in the 1960’s, a film about a psychotic killer might have been frightening. Now, it’s pretty common to see a film like that and not be shocked.
I often go to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and I spent some time reading about Oldboy before and after viewing the film. On the film’s main page, it lists three genres (Drama, Mystery, Thriller) and provides a link to more applicable keywords. Despite keywords like “Severed Tongue” and “Knife in Back,” there’s not a single mention of it being a horror film. What gives? Not only did I fail to see it as a horror film, but so did the thousands of people who have contributed to the film’s IMDB page. Yet, that word “thriller” keeps coming back. I used it to describe Psycho before I even read about Oldboy, and there it is again on the IMDB page. Perhaps what I consider a thriller is what others consider to be a horror film. Let me describe what I usually expect from horror films. First off, I expect a heap of violence, which Oldboy certainly had. Secondly, I expect a singular main enemy, which the film also had. Finally, I expect humor, or at least campiness. Oldboy had some funny moments, so I guess it qualifies for all three categories. Despite this, I still struggle with the classification.
Maybe it’s because Oldboy meant something to me, and I’m not usually inspired or affected by horror films. It’s a prejudice, I’ll admit. I certainly blame the crappy studio horror films of my teen years, not to mention the recent wave of sloppy remakes. It has become easy to dismiss horror films, yet occasionally one will sneak through that is better than the rest. Just like many of the early horror films, Oldboy is packed with stunning messages about society, self-worth, and how we regard others. It’s also stylish as hell and filled with hilariously over-the-top violence. It satisfies all my needs. But is it a horror film? That I can’t say. But it is a great film, and that’s what matters the most.