A cornucopia of taboo themes encroaching along the fringes of modern Korean society are brought together by director E J-yong in his latest feature, the bold yet surpassingly easygoing The Bacchus Lady. Led by a showstopping turn from Youn Yuh-jung as an elderly prostitute who becomes an bastion of death and empathy for a group of her senior clients seeking euthanasia, here is a film that balances its lugubrious themes with a down-to-earth mise-en-scene.
Few stones are left unturned by E, as amputees, transexuals, Kopinos (Korean-Filipino children often abandoned by their sex tourist Korean fathers), venereal diseases and more enter the narrative along with the already mentioned themes. A director who always switched gears with each new project, he ably finds a common ground between commercial drama and the indie realm to give his themes the weight they demand but also a light, breezy touch that makes them digestible for viewers.
Youn, one of Korea’s most respected actors, who got her start back in the 70s starring in classic Kim Ki-young films such as Woman of Fire, is charismatic and vulnerable in equal measure in a role that few of her peers who have dared to take on. Director E’s willingness to explore dark aspects of Korean society and Youn boldness in the lead offer a potent combo in The Bacchus Lady, made all the more impressive for the film’s effortless staging and its approachability.