Bacchus ladies are elderly Korean prostitutes, a fact of which The Bacchus Lady kindly informs the viewer. We are introduced to So-young (Yeo-jeong Yoon), the titular bacchus lady, as she enters her doctor’s office and learns she has gonorrhea, which obviously is bad for her business. As she leaves the clinic, she happens on a young boy (Hyun-jun Choi) and takes him in because his mother has just become indisposed (due to her stabbing the doctor), setting us up for some odd-couple-style hijinks between this mismatched pair who are separated by 60-odd years. Or so I thought.
It turns out that this is not a comedy. Not even a little bit. The Bacchus Lady is a melancholy look at aging where the little boy and all other characters younger than 60 are incidental, and the characters over 60 are longing for death. The Bacchus Lady is tragic in so many ways. Through the eyes of So-young, we encounter many seniors who live without joy, love, or purpose. So-young brings brief respite using her special skills, but the feeling is fleeting and leaves everyone wanting more, including So-young herself.
Sadness abounds in The Bacchus Lady, even before she makes an abrupt transition from prostitute to a grimmer kind of service provider. I was rooting for her to find a glimmer of hope somewhere, but her surroundings didn’t provide it and she couldn’t have seized it anyway. She was in too deep to begin with and everything she encountered only drove her deeper into the muck, from the kid, to her clients, to a chance encounter at a KFC.
So-young’s story is simply heartbreaking. Not only is she a castaway in a sea of regret, she is just one of many old souls who are adrift. It is almost unbearable, and the worst part is that The Bacchus Lady makes you wonder how many real-life seniors are feeling the same way as So-young and her clients. I guarantee that The Bacchus Lady will make you want to hug your grandmother, so give her a call and meet her for tea after the show.
Tuesday, November 15, 9:00 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased at the Reel Asian website.