Seoul’s main east-west avenue Jongno goes past the parklands around the Jongmyo Shrine, one devoted to the country’s past kings. In the park old men gather to chat and play paduk, and some poor old women troll for customers. So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) is one of them. She totes a bag with Marlboros and the energy drink Bacchus, camouflage for the trade in sex she offers to her elderly patrons. Despite her basic decency and kindness, or rather precisely because of them, So-young’s life will take an even darker turn.
E J-yong had featured Youn in his witty mockumentary Actresses (2009). Here he gives his good friend the most somber role of her long and varied career. Youn could have chewed scenery, played it for shock and tears. Instead So-young emerges as a down-to-earth participant-observer witnessing the lack of welfare support and basic dignity afforded to many of Korea’s older citizens.