“The Bacchus Lady” is a poignant film about senior citizen So-Young (Youn Yuh-Jung), which delves into the larger social problems at play for the senior citizens of South Korea. The movie focuses on So-Young to demonstrate how hundreds of elderly women make a living– by selling cheap sex in parks. Bacchus, an energy drink, has quickly become a pseudonym for her profession.
The film starts out with a bang: just having tested positive for an S.T.D, So-Young witnesses her doctor being stabbed with scissors by his Filipina girlfriend, leaving their illegitimate child Min-Ho stranded. So-Young rushes him home with her, leaving him in the care of her neighbors while she works during the day. So-Young’s two neighbors Tina, her transgender landlady, and amputee Do-Hoon quickly assimilate the child into their makeshift family. Their relationships were wonderfully portrayed. They clearly all had their problems and issues to take care, but none hesitate to help the others.
So-Young’s daily life is quickly disrupted as she reconnects with three of her older clients, who are all experiencing the indignity and stress of old age and poverty. The director uses a young man making a documentary about bacchus ladies to clue the audience into the sad state of the elderly in Korea, where nearly 65% live below the poverty line. This is neatly contrasted with Min-Ho, who receives an abundance of resources from the government as an abandoned child. The three men are portrayed realistically; they have been abandoned by a system they helped build after the Korean War and are now left adrift and neglected. So-Young’s relationship with them is understanding, however, they all rely on her to help end their struggles.
Through her interactions with them, So-Young recalls her past where she was an escort for American soldiers at a military base and had to give her child up for adoption. Although her path to becoming a bacchus lady is never completely revealed, one scene shows her watching another elderly women collecting trash on the street– the only other job she could have had. She reminisced that her dignity would not have let her live like that. Through So-Young’s life, director EJ-Young reveals the limited options available to the elderly and the lack of a comprehensive support program for them.
The majority of the film is shot in the parks of Korea, beautifully green and full of luscious trees. The screen time devoted to the sexual aspects of So-Young’s jobs is anything but intimate, showing her monotony but also the disrespect by some of her customers. Aesthetically pleasing, the film portrays the realities and hardships of Korean life. Although brutally honest, EJ-Young doesn’t forget to include some humor as well.
Image: Hello Asia