Old Partner

Old Partner


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

An old farmer and his equally aged beast of burden resolutely hang on to long forgotten traditions and tend their land and crops. There are so many ways this South Korean documentary could go wrong, it took some effort to brave the theatre to see it. One first fears one is going to get some Soviet propaganda-like piece of proud citizens tilling the land for the good of the nation. Another permutation has one fearing a film that is bound to cause any passing animal rights activist to board planes bound for Seoul laden with cans of red paint.

All fears prove unjustified as this turns out to be a thoroughly disarming horse-fly-on-the-wall documentary. The central characters of the farmer, his wife and the ox might well have come straight from the pages of Dickens or at the very least the pen Last Of The Summer Wine’s Roy Clarke.

Copy picture

The laconic Mr Lee, a lifetime of hard labour etched in his visage, presents stubbornness unparalleled by any elderly relative you may have encountered who wishes to avoid new fangled gadgetry. Comic relief is provided by his long-suffering wife who keeps up an incessant tirade on Mr Lee’s failings and her lot in life.

Even more stoic than Mr Lee is the ox itself, resigned to being a beast of burden and a family member it clearly has more soul than many humans one might meet.

There is suffering and misery here to be sure, and one suspects that one or more of the frail participants are not going to make it to the end credits. The direction is unfussy and without artifice, as it should be, and the story tells itself. The photography is clinical for the most part but occasionally inspired to the lyrical, with shots that Ridley Scott might have used to send you scurrying out for a fresh Hovis.

The illusion of the time-trip back to a feudal past is broken by the arrival of several family members apparently all sporting middle-class lifestyles and vehicles - one wonders why they have not rescued Mr Lee, but one suspects pride comes before a handout. Soon these interlopers will go back to their smug middle-class existences, pretty much just as the audience will - but hopefully taking something of the majesty of the thing with them.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2010
Share this with others on...
Documentary about an elderly farmer, his wife and their loyal ox.
Amazon link

Director: Lee Chung-ryoul

Starring: Won-gyoon Choi, Sam-soon Lee

Year: 2008

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: South Korea

Search database: