Reel Asian 2016: Our Review of ‘The Bacchus Lady’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies, Reel Asian 2016 by - November 16, 2016
Reel Asian 2016: Our Review of ‘The Bacchus Lady’

Talking about how The Bacchus Lady begins already makes me giddy because of what happens to So-young (Yeo-jeong Yoon), the Bacchus lady the film focuses on. Her doctor tells her she has gonorrhea. Then she becomes a witness to a Filipino woman stabbing him with a pair of scissors. A genius once heralded in wonder about the genius of quick escalation, and that applies to E J-yong’s film too. A murder weapon straight out of Clue also makes things funnier. The Filipino woman has been having an affair with the doctor. Her arrest is inconvenient for both her and her son Min-ho (Hyun-jun Choi) waiting downstairs. Thinking that the system will lose that child, she takes it upon herself to take the child in.

The film made me realize that people make assumptions about characters they encounter. Especially, that characters have always been what they are. They have always held the same kind of work. They are born to do what we see them doing, and have no lives outside of it. And that’s kind of true with So-young. She’s been providing her services to American GIs since the Korean War. And she’s roaming Seoul’s Jongno Park during the film’s present day. She offers men off all ages a drink and a romp. There’s a permanence to her hard-edged sass too. She also has to fight off other women in her profession who question the quality of her merchandise.

She also tells a young man “Don’t call me granny, my vagina is still young”. Line of the year. She leaves that younger man scratching his head. She does this because instead of sleeping with her, he offers her to be a talking head in his documentary. It baffles him and people all over the world why women her age have to work the parks. It’s kind of the same emotion I get seeing 70-year-olds here going off into their construction jobs. Of course, it’s difficult to depict a worldwide epidemic of senior poverty within one woman.

But E’s movie hits the notes right for the most part. She conveys the murky ground between pride and shame that people like her have. People who would rather not disclose what they do for money. And that’s something that certain people in the audience can relate to, not just for sex workers. It’s difficult to fight for someone’s own rights when they’re not 100% sure they want to take up that identity. And that’s a fine position to take.

As we can see, the absurdist comedy of the film’s first scenes eventually peter out into a tragic character story. And that’s a transition I’m ok with. Because even in tragedy she’s not that much alone. Film industries worldwide release movies released every year that put sex workers as window dressing. But this film is one within the handful that show a sex worker as an integral part of her community. So-young has neighbors who have their own quirky personalities and take turns caring for Min-ho. Her landlady is a trans woman. And just as a caveat, the jokes other characters make about her a bit 90s.

Back to So-young, she meets other sex workers, some of whom are her competition and others are her friends. She’s also familiar with her clients, who as just as old as she is and have their own burdens caused by age. She takes their common factors into account and without giving anything away, she does a few things that she morally justifies. It’s a twist al right but it doesn’t feel as manipulative here.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.