Life never really gets easier as you age in E J-yong’s drama.
“Can I open a bottle of Bacchus for you…?”
Before reading up about this movie I had never heard of the Bacchus Ladies: elderly women who solicit men (usually also elderly, but not always) for sex under the guise of selling Bacchus-F energy drinks. This is by no means minor: an estimate puts the number of workers in Seoul’s Jongmyo Park alone at 400, and seems to have originated over twenty years ago during the Asian Financial Crisis, though the practise still happens today due to extremely high poverty rates amongst the elderly. This context was a touch necessary, I found, before diving into The Bacchus Lady.
Youn Yuh-jung plays So-Young, a Bacchus Lady working out of Jongmyo Park. She lives in a housing complex next to their trans landlady, lounge singer Tina (An A-Zu), and their amputee friend Do-Hoon (Yoon Kye-sang). While getting a prescription for her gonorrhoea, her doctor is stabbed by an irate woman, who is promptly arrested. However, her son finds himself alone. So-Young decides to look after him until another solution presents itself. During the story, she encounters friends from her past, many of whom are more than happy to call it a day on life.
The Bacchus Lady has a lot to say, and doesn’t have a lot of time to say it. It talks immigration, child care, sex work, poverty, minorities and euthanasia all over the course of a single movie – certainly no small feat. I don’t know how well-known the Bacchus Lady practice is among the Korean general public, but regardless writer-director E J-yong’s story does a good job introducing and shining a spotlight on So-Young’s plight, while also touching upon others who have been left behind by the system.
The Bacchus Lady works decently both as a standalone drama and also as commentary, though it never quite excels in either. With its two concurrent stories it never quite finds its focus – especially once the c-story, wherein So-Young finds herself as the go-to euthanizer for her old friends, gets going . All of those plots would make good movies by themselves but crammed together in this fairly slow-moving drama doesn’t give them enough time to shine. At least they all serve the movie’s central thesis: that people have to help each other when the world chooses not to. The theme is at the forefront of all of the stories presented here.
Youn Yuh-jung brings a tortured, regretful but still positive twist to her character. She’s someone who’s had to make a lot of difficult decisions in her life, and her stoic but caring demeanour sells this nicely. The ensemble works very nicely together, too. It’s a shame we don’t get to see them all together very often, but the moments they share are among the best in the film. The actors have a natural chemistry and strong grasps on their character so their interactions end up as the highlight of the film. These moments are the ones that best tell just how bad things are.
The Bacchus Lady is a thoughtful and sometimes melancholy look at everyday life for many of Korea’s forgotten individuals. It has a lot to say about those disenfranchised few, even if it never quite fits together as much as it would like. But for all its successes and faults, there’s just something very fun about watching a group of old women talking shit and calling each other slut.
Verdict: E J-yong’s drama might be bogged down with too many stories, but it has enough heart and conviction to get across what it wants to with a heaping dose of sincerity.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: 5/10 for that one loooong blowjob scene
Other c-plots: I’ve also missed out the story about her American son, and the documentarian. There’s so many!
Original title: Nothing to do with its main story but holy crap is it good
Injections: Eesh, no thanks
The Bacchus Lady (2016)
Also known as: 죽여주는 여자(Lit. Killer Woman)
Director: E J-yong
Writer: E J-yong
Youn Yuh-jung – So-Young
Jeon Moo-song – Jae-Woo
Yoon Kye-sang – Do-Hoon
An A-Zu – Tina