Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A guy and his ox: OLD PARTNER, from Chung-Ryoul Lee, opens at Film Forum

Chung-Ryoul Lee's OLD PARTNER (Wonangsori) brings you up close to -- not just death and dying but -- lives lived in the senior years without much vari-
ation, little hope and what appears to be a zero degree of joy. Despite some truly lovely photography, with compositions that are breathtak-
ingly beautiful, all the more so because of their simplicity, the lives we see are full of drudgery, and the film Lee has made from these lives threatens to descend into that same kind of hell. That is does not (though for me it comes awfully close) is to the credit of the director, who in this, his first docu-
mentary, captures an elderly Korean farming couple and their ox -- the old partner of the title -- with as much tact as feeling. The two humans seem barely to be surviving, and the local veteranarian has diagnosed a soon-to-happen death for their ox, who looks more than ready for it.

Director Lee provides no narration and but a few super-titles of explanation, along with the subtitles for the spoken words (there are not that many), so we don't know what kind of life these people led in their younger years. All we see is a single photograph, though mention is made by the wife of children who would not want to be burdened with these parents. So we watch and wait, as their tiresome and constant work goes on, and the husband in particular, tries to find a way out of their problems. When he takes the ox to market, no one is buying, and the old farmer seems to be the butt of many jokes.

He picks and then feeds a passel of dandelions to the creature, much to the consternation of his wife -- who notes that he wouldn't do the same for her. This woman is a complainer -- first, last and always -- and while she certainly seems to have every right to do this and much to complain about, she does grow tiresome. Her husband is going deaf, though from time to time this deafness seems to be by choice. Who can blame him, considering what he is constantly forced to hear.

The ox, a symbol if ever there was one, is as much an object of derision by the wife and the locals as of love from the farmer. This is the animal's movie in a major way, and I doubt you'll be able to erase the image of those big brown eyes -- sad and enduring -- from your mind.

Old Partner opens at Film Forum tomorrow, Wednesday December 30, for a one-week-only run.


Anonymous said...

A very unique movie. Personally, I do not know the stars in the movie though I found it interesting. The subtitles are quite good so its easy to follow even If it’s a Korean movie. A guy and his ox: OLD PARTNER is awesome.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Anon. I did not not find it as awesome as you, but it is certainly worth seeing. I've never felt this close to an ox before!