Saturday, July 11, 2015

Old Partner: Film Review

Released 30 December 2009.
Some viewers will love this this documentary. Others will find it too slow.  I prefer to see the slow pace as a chance to meditate and to see the sparsity as poetry.

After viewing it, I found out that  Old Partner (2009) won a host of awards and was the highest grossing independently released film from South Korea.   

So what is this documentary about ? 

The documentary shows a year in the life of farmer Choi Won-kyun and his wife Lee Sam-sun.  Even though the film was shot in the 21st century, this couple are still farming without modern equipment. This mature couple do many tasks by hand or with crude equipment

Most notably, Choi Won-kyun uses an ox to help him do his work. But this ox is not just a beast of burden. She's his best friend, his soul mate, and his doppelganger.  His "old partner." 

And in case you suspect that the director is pushing that parallel too hard, consider this quote from the film:

"This cow is better than a human," he says. "When it dies, I'll be its chief mourner -- and I'll follow. I'm alive because of this cow."

Yes, sometimes the film gets a bit repetitive.  But don't give up and don't skip ahead or you will miss some poignant scenes. For example, there are three scenes where the old farmer is buying or selling cattle: -- one near the beginning, one in the middle, and one near the end.   

I'd unpack the significance of the last buying/selling scene, but I can't for two reasons: 1) Spoilers! and 2) the old farmer very well could  have been using a very different bargaining strategy than I originally inferred.  

Use the documentary's slow pacing to think in complex ways about these themes: work, modernization, extended family, disability, health care, gender roles, poverty, self-determination, and identity.

Aren't these interesting themes that get to the heart of life over decades of living? 

For other views of this film, consider looking at New York Times' review and this Los Angeles Times' post-success follow-up story. 


  1. I just love a good documentary. I'm going to have to watch this for sure and the fact that is won so many awards make me want to see it even more! Thanks much for sharing this. I'm always on the hunt for a great doc.

    1. I hope that you enjoy it. I found it fascinating to watch someone still farming with traditional tools / methods. Also, the parallels between man and his "old partner" were very touching. It can be slow, but it offered me a view of life I otherwise would never have the chance to observe. Enjoy.