Old Partner

Director: Chung-ryoul Lee
Screenwriters: Chung-ryoul Lee

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
—Anatole France
In a remote, verdant valley in South Korea, old Mr. and Mrs. Lee live on a farm with their rickety ox. For 40 years, the animal has served them faithfully—hauling untold firewood loads and dragging the plow through fertile fields. A gently unfolding meditation on the cycle of life, Old Partner playfully and poetically tells the story of the ineffable bond between Mr. Lee and his ox as their lives wind down in tandem.

Rain or shine, hunched and gnarled, Mr. Lee tills, weeds, and harvests, often crouching on all fours like the ox that never leaves his side. The camera lingering intimately on the ox’s kind eyes and creaky bones allows us to sense the depth of this sentient being’s loyalty as he carts Mr. Lee to town at a snail’s pace. In return, Mr. Lee collects special fodder by hand and refuses to spray insecticides for fear of poisoning his beloved beast. Meanwhile, the cheeky Greek chorus, Mrs. Lee, complains incessantly from the peanut gallery. This traditional life and this ox will be her undoing!

A charming, heartbreaking, existential buddy tale, Old Partner conveys the almost-mystical inextricability of humans and nature. As laconic Mr. Lee intones, “The ox is my karma.”

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details


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