Jug-yeo-ju-neun Yeo-ja (The Bacchus Lady)
Visitors to South Korea should be wary of old ladies who offer them a bottle of bacchus (a type of energy drink). This is a code that elderly prostitutes use with prospective customers, and drinking some bacchus means something else entirely in this instance. South Korea is a fairly wealthy country, and yet it has one of the highest rates of impoverished pensioners in the developed world (75% of single women over the age of 65 are below the poverty line) So the old ladies nonchalantly hang out in parks, aiming to tempt equally old men into parting with their pension payments for pleasure. The Bacchus Lady of the title is So-Young (Youn Yuh-jung). She chose her name herself, and yes, it’s deliberate.
There are many shocking moments of violence that will evoke laughter or shocked gasps punctuating this darkly comedic film. One such moment causes a small child to run in fear, later to be found by So-Young who naturally takes him home like a puppy.
Senior sexuality is not exactly common in cinema, but it’s no longer taboo either. So-Young is a sex worker, and so it’s to be expected that she will be seen as she works. While these scenes are amusing and insightful, director E J-yong exercises restraint in not playing them for laughs. Many of the events in the film are brutal, and its themes are bleak as So-Young and her clients accept the fact that they are not quite so young anymore. This makes it a minor revelation that the film still displays tremendous warmth and wit. As So-Young, Youn Yuh-jung goes through her day with a world-weary resignation, whether she’s buying KFC for the child or being shagged in the park by a stranger for money. The brief glimpses into her past explain why she is the way she is, and this is not exactly subtle, but still nicely handled.
Viewers might disagree with the final words that appear on the screen directly before the end credits start to roll, but this particular Bacchus Lady has treats that should be accepted.
Jug-yeo-ju-neun Yeo-ja (The Bacchus Lady) does not yet have an official UK release date.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about the Berlin Film Festival 2016 visit here.