'The Bacchus Lady' Brings Another Meaning of Justice
SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- Beauty and tricks are not the biggest weapons of So-young, a 65-year-old prostitute and heroine of independent film "The Bacchus Lady" (2016), directed by E Jae-yong. In a country where prostitution is banned and a taboo, So-young hooks customers in a downtown park, where men of her age group roam in search of an emotional connection.
"Come, be my date -- I'll treat you well," she mutters and stares at the ground, when potential "buyers" approach her. To keep her work acceptable in the eyes of the public, she pretends to be selling small bottles of Bacchus, a popular energy drink that she carries in her purse. For this woman, prostitution is the only means of a dignified living. "No work, no money," says the sex worker, when she calls it a day without a single customer.
So-young's name grows fast in her field as the "killer woman" due to her unrivaled sexual techniques, yet she soon becomes challenged to become a killer in another sense. Her old customers ask her to help them end their life, bemoaning their plight and resentment of their ungrateful children. Shaken by their desperation, So-young strives to make the right decision based on her own heart.'
Starring veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung and supporting actors Chon Moo-sung and Yoon Kye-sang, the 111-minute drama is a wonder for both the film industry. As of Sunday, the film has drawn 101,602 views in attendance -- a rare success for a non-commercial film -- since its launch in Oct. 6. Ticket sales of 20,000 to 30,000 views mark a decent performance for the indie genre, according to K-film marketers.
The film's greatest strength is its cohesive inclusion of diverse social issues, mostly about the minority groups in Korea. The pivotal conflict of the film remains senior welfare throughout, and yet, Lee throws in several different chunks of social agendas -- Korean men's fathering of extra-marital children with Southeast Asian women, children from multicultural families, physically impaired jobseekers and transgender people.
The film portrays, in a surprisingly focused way, multiple sets of clashes between the majority and the minority. Observing the world from the perspective of So-young, the film makes the viewers question some of the highest authorities in our society, even religious doctrines.'
The film begins with a brief revelation of So-young's seemingly blatant, grumpy personality. Then the heroine accidentally runs into a frustrated Filipino woman in the act of stabbing an obstetrician who had seduced her and gotten her pregnant while studying in the Philippines. So-young voluntarily claims the custody of the Filipino woman's little boy with ample complaint that she was dumb to bring another problem into her life. While So-young is a victim of social stigma, she is a rescuer and socially active moral agent.
Ironically, So-young and her fellow prostitutes only play a part in society through what they do. Through her "job," she meets people, builds friendship and affection, makes a living, receives proper medical care and does good deeds. Most economically struggling women her age collect recyclable trash to make pittance -- a job doomed to a lonely death.
The film is surprisingly far from being pedagogic, leaving ample room for the audience to make their own judgments on justice and injustice. Preceding drama films with heavy social messages tend to make the audience return home with a sense of guilt and hatred of their own society. E's "The Bacchus Lady," on the other hand, lightens up the hearts of the audience by showing both the humorous and dark sides of living at the bottom of the social pyramid.'