Oldboy and Consuming Vengeance
by Hien Le
"Revenge is a dish best served cold," an expression used around the world, can be seen literally and figuratively within Park Chan-wook’s film, Oldboy. This film is centered around the character Oh Dae-su (played by Choi Min-sik) and his journey for vengeance after being held captive for fifteen years. Dae-su’s few connections to the outside world would be his daily meals and whatever was playing on the TV, clinging onto the last pieces of his humanity. Throughout his fifteen years of imprisonment, not only does he crave to eat anything other than the fried dumplings they feed him, but also he craves revenge upon whoever imprisoned him. The revenge wanted by both Dae-su and his captor, Lee Woo-jin (played by Yoo Ji-tae), consumes both of them into this seemingly never-ending cycle of violence.
The first meal Dae-su eats after his imprisonment is a whole raw octopus. He begins eating the octopus by ripping off its head with his teeth, similar to an animal eating its freshly caught prey. This is representative of the predator-prey relationship both Dae-su and Woo-jin have with each other, but both view them as the predator, never as the prey. Both men are seeking revenge on each other, seeing them as the prey to reach their end goal. Dae-su’s end goal is to enact revenge on his captor, Woo-jin, acting as a predator that is actively seeking out its prey. While Woo-jin seeking revenge for his sister, acts more like a predator that is playing with its food, leading Dae-su into the traps that he placed.
Dae-su with the help of Mi-do (played by Kang Hye-jung) goes on a search for the fried dumplings he ate throughout his imprisonment. Searching from restaurant to restaurant to help him track down who was behind his imprisonment. This search plays into the constant cat and mouse game throughout the movie with both Dae-su and Woo-jin thinking to themselves as the “cat” chasing after their “mouse.” Both fueled by their rage and want for revenge, the thirst both characters have for revenge will never end until death strikes upon one of them.
The saying "revenge is a dish best served cold" perfectly encapsulates the film's exploration of vengeance. The coldness of the dish suggests a calculated approach to seeking retribution, mirroring Dae-su's planning as he seeks to settle the score. Additionally, the cyclical nature of revenge is reflected in the film's portrayal of food. Just as a meal can be consumed and digested, the characters' actions reverberate, perpetuating a cycle of violence.
Oldboy (올드보이). Dir. Park Chan-wookPerf. Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung. CJ Entertainment, 2003.