Sunday, December 4, 2011

Old Partner (워낭 소리) - 2008

The first Korean documentary I've ever seen, and a pretty good one.  Nearly even dragged a couple of tears out of me at the end.  Old Partner is about an old man (Choe Won-gun 최원균), his wife (Lee Sam-sun 이삼순), and one very old cow.  I think the cow is like 40 years old, and near its death, but the cow and the old man still go out into the field to work and farm.  All the while the wife is bitching at him for working too much, and working the cow too much.

There's some charming moments in the film, like when he goes out into the city of Bonghwa (봉화) in North Gyeongsang Province (경상북도) to visit a doctor, while being pulled by the old cow in a rickety old wagon.  During the clip, they pass by some folks protesting in front of the Bonghwa market about the FTA agreement to allow imported American beef to come to Korea.  Interesting.  There were times like that when I wondered if the film makers staged it.  There is one scene when the old man is trying to sell the cow off and no one wants the old thing.  At that moment they start in with the dramatic piano music and the slowed down film and A GODDAMN TEAR IS COMING OUT OF THE COW'S EYE!  Now, I'm sure that was happening for a variety of reasons, but not that the cow was sad because no one would buy him.  A little manipulation there on the filmmakers part.  Thankfully, most of the film isn't like that, and tells a pretty straight story.  Even the soundtrack is pretty minimal and most of it is supplied by environmental sounds and the persistent, but comforting, sound of the cow bell (the Korean title is actually The Sound of the Cow Bell). 

It's a good film and it won awards and was the highest grossing independent film in Korean film history.  A good start for first time director Lee Chung-ryoul (이충렬).  Check it out.

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