Experimental filmmaking from Director Bong as CCTV footage depicts the spiralling crime spree of a man over several years
A year after his crime mystery Memories of Murder had established him as a cornerstone of New Wave Korean cinema, Bong Joon-ho was commissioned by the Jeonju International Film Festival to contribute a short film as part of an anthology.
Much like the Three... Extremes horror film, directors from Japan and Hong Kong in Sogo Ishii and Yu Lik-wai completed the directing trio.
What Bong produces is so distinctively Director Bong-like it is barely necessary to credit his segment – featuring the usual the dark humour and social commentary.
The biggest departure is on the technical side. This is an experimental approach, using only CCTV footage to tell the story of the demise of our central character.
We at first see a man, Cho Hyun-rae, contemplating jumping off a bridge in 2000. A year later the footage is from within the restrooms of an underground station with him practising his sales pitch for a ‘super glue’ (that appears to be anything but super-like in its glue strength).
In following years, matters turn darker. CCTV from within ATM sections of banks sees Hyun-rae robbing old ladies, with a female accomplice joining him as a life of crime grips his daily routine.
So, the first question with Influenza is has the experiment worked? Undoubtably. The CCTV is more than a gimmick, it provides a realistic notion to the story without overly restricting the visual appeal.
Bong even uses the specific quirks of CCTV footage to tell the story. In one passage in a car park, the camera has a mechanical pan between two areas. As Hyun-rae and his female sidekick attacks a man, we see the event in panning instalments, timing the final pan to follow the car as it makes its escape.
Another element is that CCTV footage does not allow cuts, meaning the various scenes, 10 in total, are all effectively one lengthy shot each.
Bong also uses the CCTV sections and the outside streets as two separate stages, especially in the final scene where a fight breaks out both within the CCTV area and on the streets, leaving us unsure where to look as mayhem breaks out across the screen.
Much is said about society through these voyeuristic snippets of a life unravelling. It is clear this man has hit rock bottom as he contemplates suicide. We then see him trying his hand at a everyman sales job, but a life of crime still awaits.
There is always talk of attempts to make society safer. Through aspects such as CCTV and punishment, but society does less is create an environment to protect and support desperate individuals before they slide into crime.
Bong Joon-ho does not just make darkly funny and original films, he wants us to better contemplate society in the process. In Influenza, we are the flies on the wall as a desperate man can find only crime and violence in such a society.