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The Truth About The Octopus-Eating Scene In Oldboy

Oldboy is an absolute legend in the revenge thriller genre. The 2003 South Korean film – the second installment in director Park Chan-wook's "Revenge Trilogy," between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance – tells the story of a man named Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), who's on a quest for vengeance. After being kidnapped and held prisoner under mysterious circumstances for 15 years, Dae-su tries to find out who ruined his life. 

The movie is known for its grueling intensity — every action scene or emotional twist is made to feel as blunt-force visceral as possible — but its most famous scenes are the brutal one-take hallway fight in which Dae-su fights 50 goons with a hammer while a knife sticks out of his back, and the scene where he eats a live octopus. 

The octopus-eating scene is especially notable because Choi Min-sik really ate a live octopus during filming. He actually ate four live octopuses, because they did four takes. The first time, someone put salt on the unfortunate cephalopod to help Choi choke it down a little bit easier, but it was too salty, as seen in the fascinating behind-the-scenes video from Oldboy's DVD extras. Choi is a Buddhist and a vegetarian, and he apologized to and said a little prayer for each octopus before he chomped it, according to director Park.

The snack that grabs back

In the film, the octopus-munching scene takes place shortly after Dae-su is freed from captivity. He enters a sushi restaurant and tells the chef, Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), that he wants to eat a living thing. She goes into the kitchen while he talks on the phone to his anonymous tormentor; Mi-do then comes back a few moments later with a live octopus on a plate. She offers to cut it up for Dae-su, but he grabs it and savagely tears into its mantle. He shoves the tentacles into his mouth, and they hang out like living spaghetti, grabbing at his face in a futile attempt to escape. It's a primal scene, and shows how consumed with hate and revenge Dae-su is. He has made himself into an instinctual killer.

Watching the behind-the-scenes clip, the scene doesn't look like it was fun to film. The actors and crew members seem to know that what they're doing is pretty extreme, and they take it seriously. At the same time, though, there's a little bit of dark humor at play, like they have to laugh about it in order to get through it. One take gets blown because Choi starts laughing while he's chewing, apparently because he can't bite through it, and he's gnawing away at it like a madman. He and Park both collapse in helpless laughter. The magic of filmmaking, right?