REVIEW: The Bacchus Lady

“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

PREVIEW: The Bacchus Lady

Interested in foreign films or Korean cinema? The Bacchus Lady tells the story of elderly prostitute So-Young, who ends up caring for an abandoned boy named Min-Ho. This film (nominated for several awards) promises to engage in some profound issues, from the reality of growing older, to disabilities, and the welfare system.

The Nam Center for Korean Studies is graciously showing this movie for FREE, but only at the Michigan Theater on Sat., March 31 at 1:00 PM.

Image: Michigan Theater

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time, the readapation of basically everyone’s favorite childhood book by Madeleine L’Engle, chronicles the adventure of young Meg Murray (Storm Reid), on a quest to find her father. In the process she unwilling becomes a warrior for the light against the evil of the universe. Calvin (Levi Miller) and her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) accompany her, guided by three seriously peculiar goddesses/guardians/celestial beings. In truth, the whole adventure is simply a coming of age story for the relentlessly teased Meg. It came so close to being a fantastic film, but tried to combine too many ideas in the space of two hours. (spoilers below)

This film felt so ordinary. Protagonist goes on a journey of self discovery and learns to love themself, aided by a corny love interest and powerful guiding forces who do nothing but offer unhelpful advice. To be clear, I have no problem with self discovery journeys. I do have a problem when the film relies on tropes and fails to add anything new. I was waiting anxiously for some plot twist or great reveal that would bump the film up the extra step it needed to greatness… aaaand nothing happened. I’m pretty sure I predicted about 96% of the film accurately.

So, the second problem. I think part of the reason it felt so discombobulated was because there were really cool elements that had the potential to be really interesting, but were kept at surface level. For example, Meg’s father discovered the tesseract, a higher dimension (???) which enables people to teleport across the universe when they tap into the right frequency. And I have so many questions!! How did her father learn this? He’s been missing for four years, so why didn’t he just tesserate back? What even is this higher dimension?? I understand this is a fantasy/science fiction movie, so I’m already suspending a lot of belief. But, it can only go so far. Like, if I’m going to accept people can tesserate across the universe there better be flawless worldbuilding that backs it up.

A lot of the film felt progressive; major lines were dropped about accepting oneself both as a woman and/or a woman of color. Aspects of these deeper themes peeked out from the plot, but were then smothered by insanely corny lines and childish dialogue creating a push and pull between a more mature film to one aimed at little kids. (Literally, my friend and I were hard-core cringing half the film from second hand embarrassment). To be fair, the kids were splendid actors and the inclusion of Oprah was a definite bonus, but I wish the director had dug deeper and explained more. Director DuVernay had the right pieces in the puzzle but they didn’t stick together well.

Image: Disney

REVIEW: GLOSS: Modeling Beauty

Gloss: Modeling Beauty was a pleasant surprise. All I knew about this exhibit was that it “explores the shifting ideals of female beauty that pervade European and American visual culture from the 1920s to today,” which was the UMMA’s online description. I expected magazine covers of willowy, white women in the highest fashion from the early 1900’s and today’s fashion magazines with sleek, androgynous women. Maybe it was just me, but I found the theme of the exhibit to be different from what the online description conveyed. Rather than depicting shifting trends in actual beauty standards, I felt like the exhibition portrayed the photographer’s stance and mentality towards fashion and beauty in their time period.

For example, one of the first images shows a black women posing for an advertisement in typical Harlem 1920’s attire. The photographer, James Van Der Zee, tries to offer an alternative to the mainstream white models of the time. Another photographer had several images of women in more experimental, sexual clothing, but it was the 1970’s during the sexual revolution… so it’s not too out of place. The gesture of empowering women was appreciated. To be honest though, some of them I just didn’t “get”. According to the plaque, Paolozzi’s pop art photos were supposed to “engender comical and ambiguous analogies”. Yeah, I found them very ambiguous.

The work that stood out the most for me was a set of six photos from a clothing catalog for the store Bloomingdale’s. The set of photos are honestly kind of creepy more than anything else. Each photo has several women in the shot, but it looks like they are all doing their own thing and just happen to be in the same space. There is little interaction between them and their expressions are oddly intense. One woman sits on a couch and stares directly into the camera completely straight faced, which I actually found a little unnerving. Maybe that was the point…? I’m not sure. Each image also has a high contrast between light and shadow which heightened the bizarreness for me.

One thing did disappoint me a little. The exhibition was quite small– taking my time and reading every single plaque, I went through the two walls of photos in about twenty minutes. Overall, I appreciated the few pictures with women of color. I wish there had been more diversity but the absence makes sense since the exhibition is a reflection on whom society deems worthy of representing beauty.

Would recommend if: you have spare time between classes, you understand photography more than me, you want some insight into how photographers use media as a tool for communication.

PREVIEW: GLOSS: Modeling Beauty

Interested in fashion and photography? How about beauty and culture? If so, come peruse the photography gallery in the UMMA, right on central campus— for free.

GLOSS: Modeling Beauty examines how beauty ideals have changed in America and in Europe since the 1920’s. The exhibition features glossy images of female models from fashion magazines. Hanging along side these works are images from documentary photographers who depict the fashion of everyday life. Lastly, artists like Nikki S. Lee contribute photographs presenting alternative notions to mainstream beauty and fashion. Come see how beauty standards for women have evolved and, of course, for some fashion *inspiration*. After all, it’s only open until January 7th, 2018.

Time: Everyday (except Mondays). Where: UMMA. What: Awesome visuals by awesome photographers (~Andy Warhol~).

(Image: UMMA website.