Both frothy and melancholy, The Bacchus Lady dives into its unexpected tale of one of South Korea’s infamous “Bacchus ladies” who witnesses a stabbing at her STI clinic and takes the perpetrator’s son under her wing, forming an “odd couple” bond.
Reveling in its black comedy and farcical elements, things take a delightfully morbid turn when So-young (Youn) visits a bed-bound client. One impulsive, empathetic action later, she has set off down a path of even greater ethical dilemmas.
Although mostly light-hearted, The Bacchus Lady still tackles the unpleasant underbelly of its content, but without mawkish over-emphasis. So-young’s trade doesn’t guarantee friendly clients, as a firm hand pushing down her head demonstrates. Racial tensions simmer, with half-Filipino Min-ho (Choi) labelled “kopino” and So-young’s past as an escort to American GIs touched upon. Again, though, to subvert these heavier moments, an enjoyable day-trip to gape at the North Korean border occurs.
Charming support is in supply from droll transgender landlady Tina (An A-zu) and lazy, puppyish amputee neighbour Do-hoon (Yoon Kye-sang), as they help the old lady juggle her trade (and keep her turf, dodge police raids and attempt to shake off an eager, rubber-necking documentarian), whilst looking after her unexpected young charge.
Young Yuh-jung displays gloriously unfussy and empathetic acting in the title role, where she could have license to go all out but keeps things restrained – and much better for it. The only downside is a poignant but rushed denouement with loose ends tied together too abruptly.
The Bacchus Lady is a twist on the tale of a hooker with a heart of gold, and this time it’s a deliciously dark heart beating underneath all of its brushings-off. With a bold take on its attention-grabbing topic, it is not a piece that will fade into the background.
CAST: Youn Yuh-jung, Choi Hyun-jun, Chon Mu-song, Yoon Kye-sang, An A-Zu
DIRECTOR: E J-yong
WRITER: E J-yong
SYNOPSIS: When his mother stabs a doctor in a vengeful rage, Min-ho (Choi) is picked up by So-young (Youn) outside the clinic and taken to her house, where she attempts to look after him, with help from her inappropriate neighbours, while juggling her daily hustle as a “Bacchus lady” prostitute.