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The Bacchus Lady

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Jonathan Tam
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The Bacchus Lady

The Bacchus Lady is directed by E J-Yong and stars Youn Yuh-Jung as So-Young, a bacchus lady. Bacchus Ladies refer to elderly female prostitutes that operate in Seoul, South Korea and the film touches on the other side of South Korea's incredibly growth, which is that it has in fact left a lot of the aging population behind. As financial crises and medical bills piled up, many elderly koreans found themselves in poverty. Nearly 45% of koreans between age 66 - 75 live in poverty with a similar trend among those aged 51 - 65. Today, Korea estimates that nearly 65% of its overall elderly population is under poverty, which has reduced many to prostitution like our protagonist of the film.

Early in the film So-Young visits a doctor only to find that she has tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease. This comes as a result of a common practice Bacchus Ladies do, which involves injecting a Bacchus Drink into clients in order for them to reach peak sexual performance (I don't know any other way to word this). The needle re-usage leads to high STD transfer and eventually So-Young contracts an STD herself. Her path takes her through the streets of Seoul doing alternatives of sex work for a while and finally to a business man who offers her the chance at euthanizing herself with him. In case you plan to see the film, I'll stop right there because it does have a very poignant ending and a dramatic finish to the character.

This film, in a lot of ways, fits right into the content of the 2019 Summer Instititue topic, Gender and Generation, as it offers a counter-narrative to the rapidly growing nature of South Korea. There is a forgotten generation of folks who are left behind as the economy rolls forward and those who were once hopeful for the future are now left unclear in what they are meant to do. Due to the nature of the content and some of the scenes, The Bacchus Lady is likely not a film that belongs in a high school setting, but definitely brings up points for social commentary. Excerpts of the film can definitely offer questions for students to think on including how a society should treat its aging population and how policies can quickly change our lifestyles.


David Ojeda
Topic replies: 22
Topic Posts: 2
Amazing Film!

I chose to watch The Bacchus Lady after it was brought up in, I believe, session 4 of the seminar. Directed and written by E J-yong, the narrative introduces the viewer to So-Young, an elderly woman prostituting herself in the Jongno area/district. To me, the film starts in medias res; it does not develop from the exposition how the protagonist grew up, or pivotal moments that lead her to prostitution. From the beginning, the director throws you into her life: So-Young walks into a clinic, where she is then seen explaining gonorrhea symptoms to a doctor. A few moments later, a woman stabs the doctor, and So-Young leaves the scene without receiving treatment (It is somewhat inferred later on that this is due to lack of money). This stabbing scene plunges her into Min-ho's life, the stabbing woman’s son. Min-ho appears innocent; he stays quiet and just observes. Since the mother is in custody, So-Young takes Min-ho home, nourishing him while introducing him and the viewer to her world. Unable to leave Min-ho with anyone (Do-Hoon, a neighbor, watched him for a moment until the boy escaped), she takes him to work, asking him to stay downstairs as she meets her client. Society condemns prostitutes. However, this narrative humanizes these women, showing us the reasons some partake in prostitution.

Lisa Chan's session touched upon the reasoning behind why some women, like So-Young, find themselves in this situation. The primary source Dr. Chan provided states women suffer mistreatment due to the importance of food; they are forced to rely on others to attain it. In The Bacchus Lady, So-Young is forced to rely on males to survive and for her child to survive (she states she sends money to the states, where he studies). This monetary reliance on others to purchase food, have shelter, and receive shots for health reasons is why she strolls the park for customers. On one of her strolls, she meets a documentarist who, like the viewer, wants to understand the reasoning behind the actions of the Bacchus Ladies. So-Young reveals she worked as a housemaid when she was young, and then a factory; she eventually ended up in a U.S. army base (Korean War; 1950s). Her details connect with what was discussed in the primary source: servant women depending on the master to survive; women workers depending on factory owners; prostitutes who must please the pimps and the customers.

In a five-act narrative or play, peripeteia takes place, causing the narrative to switch course; this commences the tragic hero’s downfall. I think the latter takes place during one of So-Young’s park visits. She receives information about a former client’s health, which causes her to make a choice that begins the domino effect.

The Bacchus Lady is amazing! Via the documentarist, it provides commentary on how the elderly are treated. One gains an insight into female expectations with the confrontation of So-Young and a woman she ran into who saw her the prescription for gonorrhea (the verbal battle looked like it was a fight between conformity and nonconformity; a battle with tradition). Due to the maturity of the film, I would not show it in its entirety in school. However, I would clip specific scenes that communicate the dichotomy of a woman (the verbal battle between So-Young and the woman, for instance). I would also choose scenes that provide students with the opportunity to explore how the essence of a tragic hero’s fall and Aristotle’s concepts of a tragedy are seen in the narrative. Lastly, I could see mature students (seniors) discussing the nature-vs-nurture topic by focusing on So-Young’s interview scene and the film’s ending.