Known for his art-house and commercial works concerned with contemporary social issues and exploring sexuality, director E J-yong examines the life of Bacchus ladies. Elderly ladies who prostitute in Jongmyo Park and offer Bacchus energy drink as an excuse to perform sexual deeds to maintain themselves financially.
Set partially in Jongmyo Park and in the house of the protagonist, cleverly located in Itaewon where foreigners and a big LGBTIQ+ community live, the film includes a diverse range of side characters highlighting their struggles. From a transgender club singer (An A-zu) and one-legged man who paints anime figures (Yoon Kye-sang) to Korean adoptees and immigrants, the gritty and caring protagonist So-young (Youn Yuh-jung, internationally known for Minari) connects all these stories.
Themes such as sexual liberty, immigration laws, euthanasia, or old-age poverty, are just a few of the discourses that the protagonist deals with and questions. Some of these themes are more in-depth explored than others.
The film starts with So-young at the doctor’s office. He is stabbed by a Filipino immigrant, as the doctor doesn’t accept his foreign child who is waiting outside. Noticing this, So-young takes the confused child to her home, promising him to find his mother who has been taken by the police.
Following more surprises, So-young has no social security or family to support her, so she finds her way to survive. Her clients and past friends face illnesses and loneliness in old age, and they ask her to help them in their suffering. After seeing their situation, So-young agrees to help them, creating a bittersweet narrative.
Youn Yuh-jung’s character is a strong female lead that is not afraid to do what she thinks is right; often thinking in a different way than her society’s normative reasoning. This ‘’otherness’’ encompasses her entire being, as she was born in North Korea and migrated during the War to South Korea. The place where she lives is also another factor that contributes to her otherness.
Situated in Itaewon, the place for foreigners, marginalized and “misfits’’ of Seoul, So-young’s friends and neighbours are part of the minorities, the “others”, of Korea. These include a one-legged man and a transgender person. Each of these supporting roles talk about their struggle and are not a one-dimensional character. They have a backstory and desires, highlighting their identity rather than a stereotype.
With a captivating and nonchalant performance, the character evolves to an embodiment of critique on the political and economical situation of elderly people without losing her authentic self.
“Don’t call me granny. My vagina is still young!”
With more than five decades of her daring roles and her natural talent, Youn Yuh-jung mesmerises with her legendary skills and performance in The Bacchus Lady. Incorporating a sober take on the character, but at the same time bringing her to life through her odd self-assured aura. In a story that feels real and fragile, Youn Yuh-jung succeeds in turning the audience into her favour through her grit, boldness, and sense of justice, accompanied by a charming grumpy-humour.
Director E J-Yong’s provocative discourses and Youn Yuh-jung’s modern and out of the box roles make a perfect combination for The Bacchus Lady.
Through the vision of E J-Yong, an enthralling script that provides surprise after surprise with a non-stop pace, and Youn Yuh-jung‘s gripping performance, The Bacchus Lady is a staggering bittersweet drama that encompasses various themes and succeeds in doing it rightfully and respectfully.