Let me state, unequivocally, from the start that I feel nothing but profound sorrow for the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings this week. It was an unspeakable tragedy and my thoughts are with their families and friends. I can only imagine the pain and hurt being suffered. However, there is a theory arising in America at the moment that links the shooting to a 2004 Korean film. That film is called Oldboy, directed by Chan-wook Park, the winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2004.
Two days ago, on its blog The Lede, The New York Times passed along a tip from Virginia Tech professor, Paul Harrill. He alerted The Times to the supposedly "startling similarity" between the most famous image from Park's film (captured in publicity stills) and a single image in the package sent to NBC by killer Cho Seung-Hui.
Both images show an angry man, arm aloft, hammer drawn back, poised to strike.
For those who have not seen it, Oldboy's basic premise is that an ordinary businessman, Dae-su, is one day captured and inexplicably kept prisoner for 15 years, until he is one day released, and given five days to figure out why he was initially kidnapped, or else. His methodologies in doing so are often quite violent. In the scene where the aforementioned still is taken from, he defeats a throng of adversaries with a single hammer, and a knife lodged in his back - yet he survives. Throughout the film Dae-su must battle all manners of inner demons and external persecutions. Bad vibrations.
However, this is what really annoys this blogger. I have seen Oldboy, as have many, many cineastes and moviegoers the world over. Furthermore, I enjoyed the film. Not out of some sociopathic sadism, but out of a keen love for cinema and a revelling in director Park's unerring command of story and technique. Oldboy is a quixotic and visceral feast, for those willing to engage it fully; a recommended course of action. Disclaimer for Morons: If you don't like violent films. Don't watch it.
So, Oldboy is a good film then. But, one could argue, this opinion alone can not discount the link between it and killer Cho. True, but permit me a dual retort... Firstly, is there even any link? There is not a single other possible visual link in Cho's NBC package to Park's film besides this picture. Nothing else in a package containing 28 video clips, 23-page written messages, and 43 self-portrait photos. Cho does not seem to mention or reference the film in any of his videos or messages. The link spotted by the professor is almost certainly an unfortunate coincidence.
Secondly, this whole argument should be irrelevant. Even if there was a link between the two. Even if Cho spoke directly of his admiration of Oldboy. What would that prove exactly? Nothing, except an illumination of the cinematic tastes of an alarmingly disturbed, mentally ill young man. As stated before, I have seen Oldboy, more than once, as have many others, and thankfully we have never acted as Cho did, and never will.
I fully realise that reasons and explanations are desperately sought by all in the aftermath of such a desperate tragedy. The questions pervading all minds are how? and why? Yet, playing the blame game thusly is just ridiculous. Park's Oldboy is a film; a single, independent work of fiction, completely autonomous of the damaged mind of Cho, or anybody else suffering as he. This instinctive impulse to accuse is symptomatic of a malaise permeating American society and politics - "He dunnit fellas. Let's get him." I should not need to elaborate this point further. Also, making the connection via the scene containing a hammer ironically misses the major issue completely... If Cho had carried ONLY a hammer, exactly how many people would have lost their lives that morning? Not many. Gun control anyone? Marilyn Manson & Columbine? Anyone?
Finally, I chose not to post examples of the two photos, as I feel this ridiculous thereom has had enough coverage thus far. If you really want to explore this avenue, it's only a Google away.
In conclusion, the sorrow. Let us not forget what is truly important.
Irish Independent, pg. 29. Fri 20/Apr/07.