By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Bacchus is a Red Bull-like energy drink you can find all over South Korea. Bacchus ladies are elderly women who, if they offer you a little burst of energy in a Bacchus bottle are offering you… something else.
Yes, this movie is about an elderly prostitute, a hush hush facet of the 11th strongest economy in the world which simultaneously has one of the lowest OECD country poverty levels for the elderly. The Bacchus Lady is a drama that doesn’t just seem to want to tackle this subject, but that of seemingly every social issue currently being swept under the rug in the country.
The heart of director E J-yong’s intentions for them film seem to be embracing all of the invisible minorities of Korea, from the impoverished elderly to transvestites, Filipino migrant workers often taken advantage of economically and romantically, the disabled, and those still living under the shadow of the Korean War and the constant American military presence since then.
The Bacchus Lady is not all doom and gloom, however, with an awkward yet winning comic sensibility which you’ll have to embrace when you start to realize this is a lottt stranger film than you first thought you were in for. That socially progressive message and the comedy really are the positives you’ll take away from the film.
Finally, Youn Yuh-jung does a great job in a very tough role, being asked to run a gamut of emotions and situations which one doesn’t typically associate with a seasoned elderly actress more associated with prestige roles. She doesn’t shy away from the indignities of aging, but does show for the majority of the film how they don’t really qualify as such as long as you carry yourself with your own sense of dignity.
The plot is a bit meandering, unpredictable in a “I don’t really understand how this connects” more than a “I don’t see where this is going” kind of way. And while the production is as polished as we’ve come to expect from Korean films, it still can be a bit clunky in its execution. I know they’re not a lot of native- English speaking actors in Korea, but still.
The first half or so of the film revolves around a half-Korean, half-Filipino kid that our protagonist takes home after his mother gets arrested for going after his asshole dad. Then the movie just kind of forgets about that subplot to focus on others, then others, as each new subplot feels more unnecessary and increasingly unbelievable. J-yong’s heart’s in the right place, but he seems overly concerned with demonstrating that.
Wait, the roulette wheel of social issues has now landed on assisted suicide? Twiiiceee? Then… she goes to prison, and that ending? I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that the film takes a drastic turn from the Sundancy vibes it had at first. The film really should have ended one scene previously, in the excellent off-kilter pan up from the cop car she was being hauled off in. Ambiguity isn’t a bad thing, folks.
The Bacchus Lady feels like every social issues movie never made in Korea packed into one, both to its benefit and detriment.
The Bacchus Lady (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the Bacchus Lady says something salty
Take a Drink: for every new nationality or language besides Korean
Take a Drink: for awesome-looking meals
Take a Drink: for every trick
Do a Shot: for every time she kills somebody. Just… wait for it.