Incoherence (1994) and Influenza (2004): Bong Joon-ho’s Short Films on Ethical and Social Dilemmas

incoherence influenza
Source: ScreenAge Wasteland

It is beyond doubt that Bong Joon-ho is now considered as one of the world’s finest directors, following the path of Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, and Steven Spielberg. With the recent win of his Obra Maestra Parasite at the Cannes Film Festival and 92nd Academy Awards, the world has started to be swept up by the director’s unique takes on filmmaking. 

Bong is known for producing films with a sharp take on moral crises and social injustice. Snowpiercer is arguably a critic of him about environmental degradation and social class conflict, while his film Okja blatantly tackles the disturbing consequences of capitalist food production and consumerism. With his apparent fascination with socio-political issues, it is no longer surprising that his two unconventional and darkly comic short films, Influenza and Incoherence, also converse about ethical and societal dilemmas.  


About 25 years ago, before the creation of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho produced a 30-minute short film while he was still a student at the Korean Academy of Fine Arts. Served as his graduate thesis, Incoherence is a four-episode film highlighting the men in white-collar jobs and the concept of politics of power. 

The first part centers on a young professor who spends his free time leering at lewd pictures from an American magazine. In the middle of his lecture, he asks one of his students to retrieve files from his room, only to realize that he left the lewd magazine on his desk. 

The second part focuses on a white-collar employee stealing cartons of milk outside someone’s home during his morning jog. He would bump into a newspaper boy on such one exercise routine and give him a stolen carton of milk, only for the homeowner to come out and accuse the boy of stealing. 

The third part also follows a white-collar employee with some heavy public intoxication looking for a toilet to pee. The film’s epilogue will connect these three different stories via a live TV panel discussing the social order happening in Korea. 

Even in his early career as an artist, Bong had already built his own style of combining compelling social issues with a comedic approach. Incoherence was the very first success for Bong Joon-ho, in which he shows the stupidity and hypocrisy of people with prominent positions in society. The film was screened at the Vancouver and Hong Kong film festivals. 


Ten years later after Incoherence was made, Bong produced a mockumentary film Influenza. A humorous experimental short film starts with a man named Cho Hyuk-rae standing dangerously on top of the Han River Bridge. A security camera is recording his actions in the place. In the course of the story, the CCTV camera reveals the downward spiral of Cho and the people surrounding him. 

With the help of the Seoul Regional Police Headquarters, the film was successfully created by compiling various footage from CCTV cameras. Through this film, Bong once again showed his unconventional approach to morality and violence. A victim of the 1997 financial crisis, Mr. Cho embodies an unemployed man who, falling into depths of desperation, turns to violent crimes. It is a very accurate depiction of how financial and personal crisis forces a man to resort to a series of violent acts for the sake of survival.  

The two short films of Bong Joon-ho are currently screening at the 15th London Korean Film Festival. 

You can watch and support some local films on MOOV, Cinema Centenario’s video on-demand online channel. 

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