These two short films by Bong Joon Ho, one made at the very beginning of his career and the other at a moment when his global reputation was rising, address social and ethical problems that may be found in his feature films. We are familiar with the ways Bong draws attention to issues of social hierarchy and class in Snowpiercer (2013) and Parasite (2019), as well as the ethics of guilt and rage in Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) and Mother (2009). Incoherence was produced while the twenty-five-year-old director was a student at the Korean Academy of Fine Arts and here one already senses the director’s penchant for ironically depicting men who occupy positions of authority. A public prosecutor, so drunk that he struggles to return home, rails against jaywalking and public urination. A professor who looks at a Penthouse magazine in his office teaches Adorno’s theory of the authoritarian personality to students and later grouses about the need for individuals to control their desires.
Influenza depicts the plight of an unemployed man who has given in to despair and turns to violent crime to survive. Mr. Cho represents one of the victims of the financial crisis of 1997 that left millions of workers unemployed and induced a sense of individual malaise that spread like a virus. Socially demoted within Korea’s social hierarchy, Mr. Cho remains powerless and, like a cornered animal, can only lash out under pressure.