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Old Partner: Film Review

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

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 documentary 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. 

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