One of Director Bong’s first short films is a characteristic social satire using a trio of tales to highlight the moral hypocrisy of powerful men
Some 25 years before Director Bong gained international fame for Parasite, he produced a short film that seems distinctively fired from the same gun.
He has continually returned to the concept of how power and wealth impacts the actions and moral intuitions of influential people, holding a mirror up to a Korean society which has seen the top vastly separate from the bottom.
Back in 1994, Director Bong raised his flag as a young director likely to contribute greatly to the future of Korean cinema with this half-hour foray into deceit and duplicity from three middle-aged men behaving badly while later making claims of ethical purity.
In the first of Incoherence’s three episodes we meet a university professor walking into work, fantasising about approaching a young student along the way. When he gets into his office, he spends time reading a copy of pornographic magazine Penthouse. During a lesson, when he sends a student to pick up papers from his office, he realises he must get there to hide his smutty magazine.
In the second part, a jogger steals milk from a house and offers some to a passing newspaper delivery man. As the jogger departs, he leaves the man to take the rap for the stolen milk.
The final segment involves two drunken men in suits leaving a bar at the end of the night. We follow one man as he misses his stop on the bus and is left stranded looking for a toilet. After a run-in with a building janitor, the drunk man performs an act of disgusting spite.
While all three stories seem unconnected, they are bought together in the epilogue and we realise these respected men are quick to comment on society’s ills, while being contributors themselves.
Incoherence was made during Director Bong’s studies at the KAFA (Korean Academy of Film Arts) and was selected for both the Vancouver and Hong Kong international festivals.
While the themes are ones that Bong will return to during his later features, there are also technical elements that later reappear in his work. Such as the ability to use filming spaces to create unique shots, as he does throughout Snowpiercer and Parasite. In the middle segment in particular, the dispute between the newspaper delivery man and jogger takes place in narrow alley ways, with Bong allowing the pair to exit the screen in one alley and reappear elsewhere in the same shot like rats in a maze.
Watching a short film from early in Bong’s career better highlights that the thematic thrust of his later features are embryonic of a filmmaker determined to craft a career from dark satires, explorations of the hypocrisy of the human condition, and the ways in which power corrupts.