Seen in Jeonju

Incoherence (1994)

22nd December 2009

incoherenceOriginally posted June 24, 2009–In 1994, acclaimed director Bong Jun-ho debuted with two films. The first was an 18-minute film which translates as White-Colored Man and which featured some very impressive actors. The second was the film which I will review today, Incoherence. I had forgotten that I owned this 30-minute short as part of the My Beautiful Short Films II collection (available on DVD) but rediscovered it as I was screening shorts for a student workshop I had to teach.

Incoherence is divided into three episodes and a rather long epilogue. Episode one is entitled Cockroach.  It is the story of a professor who has sexual fantasies about his students. Between classes he reads pornography in his office. One day, he forgets the handouts he had prepared for class and sends his favorite student to get it..only to remember that he has left his porn out in the open on his desk. He calls a short break as he races after the student. Although she beats him to the office, he hurls a book across the room which lands squarely on top of the magazine, effectively concealing it. When the surprised student asks him why he threw the book, he makes up a lie about killing a cockroach.

Episode 2 is called Up the Alleys. It starts with a jogger of about 60-years of age in an expensive, coordinated track suit running through the quiet streets. He stops in front of a house, opens a carton of milk left by the milkman and talks with the young man who has come to deliver the paper. He offers the paperboy the second pint of milk that is sitting in front of the gate before he continues his jog. As the paperboy drinks the milk, the lady of the house comes out and is furious to find her milk gone. The stunned youth tries to explain that he thought the man who offered him the milk lived in the house, but the woman does not believe him as her milk has been disappearing daily and she cancels her subscription to the paper. The old man watches all of this from around the corner and chuckles to himself as he continues his run, only to unexpectedly encounter the paperboy again in the maze of backstreets. A chase begins, sometimes real, sometimes imagined by the old man who clearly is enjoying himself.

The Night of Pain is the title of Episode 3. In it, we meet a very drunk man trying to get home. A series of mistakes leaves him stranded somewhere far from his house in the unfortunate postition of having to use the bathroom. Although he is directed to a public toilet, he finds the door locked. He is about to perform his urgent business in a less than appropriate place when he is caught by the night guard.  The short tempered guard hands him an old newspaper and tells him to crap on that in the basement, fold it up and throw it in the dumpster (like he has to do each night). When the man indignantly goes to the basement, all the while shouting “Do you know who I am,” he discovers that the cellar is where the night guard lives. There is a bed and a small kitchen set up there for him. Viewing this, the man gets a positively evil (yet funny) idea.

The Epilogue is set up to reveal exactly who each of these characters are and why their offenses are so ironic. All three appear on a talkshow discussing what is wrong with society today and offering theories as to why crime is on the rise. Although they have their televisions turned on, none of the victims of these men are watching the program carefully enough to recognize the men as the perpetrators of the crimes against them.

Incoherence is an excellent short film with some black humor sprinkled throughout and a heavy dose of irony at the end as we see who each of the characters are and what their crimes mean. The only problem with the film occurs at the end with some topical issues being discussed in the talk show clearly being dated with the passage of time.  However, it is a good film and worth tracking down to see.

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