In the media frenzy that followed last week’s massacre at Virginia Tech, the sideshow of greatest note to film fans would have to have been Mike Nizza’s April 19 New York Times blog item speculating that Seung-Hui Cho was inspired by the South Korean hit Oldboy (2003). Even by blogosphere standards, the story was fairly thin, based on (1) the similarity between photos in Cho’s manifesto and images from the movie, and (2) the fact that number 1 had been pointed out to Nizza by an honest-to-God Virginia Tech faculty member, Paul Harrill.
Nizza backed off less than two hours later: “We don’t know yet if Mr. Cho ever saw the film Oldboy. . . . With Mr. Cho expressing so many other reasons for his shooting spree, it is hardly time to start blaming movies.” But by the end of the day Rupert Murdoch’s British cable news program Sky News was reporting, “Officers believe [Cho] repeatedly watched Oldboy as part of his preparation for the killing spree.” And by the next day Stephen Hunter, film critic for the Washington Post, had widened the scope of accusation to include John Woo as well.
Debates over the lethality of pop culture have a way of getting really dumb really fast, and with the exception of Grady Hendrix’s essay in Slate, most of what I’ve read so far has been as specious as the original blog item. Having already taken my share of potshots at Park’s “revenge trilogy” (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance), I’ll simply say this: If a hammer were the deadliest weapon Cho had been able to get his hands on, no one in Blacksburg would have died last Monday.