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Praise Flooding Indie Blockuster Film `Old Partner`

Posted February. 19, 2009 08:17,   


Literary critic Kim Gap-soo is just one of many to praise the latest hit in Korean cinema, “Old Partner.”

“Everything is fast these days. We are forced to not get used to something in this world. We have no choice though we cannot keep pace. It’s like banishing ourselves,” he said.

“But in the world of ‘Old Partner,’ speed is non-existent. While looking back on my life, I felt a comfort that cannot be explained.”

The touching documentary blockbuster is about a 40-year friendship between an old man and his cow.

The low-budget movie is set to draw more than one million moviegoers nationwide. The film’s production company Indie Story said that at this pace, the movie will break the one million mark this weekend, becoming the first Korean documentary to do so.

“The movie is attracting more than 50,000 people a day since it topped the daily box office charts Monday,” an Indie Story source said.

Released Jan. 15, “Old Partner” has attracted 820,000 viewers in a little more than a month. “Once,” which drew 226,220 in 2007, had been the biggest box office hit among indie films in Korea.

“Old Partner” has also breathed new life to the sluggish Korean movie industry. Of 100 domestic movies released last year, only 16 attracted more than one million moviegoers.

“Old Partner” was initially released in seven theaters designated by the Korean Film Council to screen indie films, but that number shot up to 216 Tuesday.

More people in their 40s or older have seen the movie through word-of-mouth recommendations. The number of 50-something viewers remained between two and three percent in the beginning but quickly rose to 15 percent this month, according to major multiplex cinema chain CJ CGV.

“I came here with my friend because my mother recommended this movie. She said it’s a really great movie that makes us think about a lot of things,” student Yang Mi-do, 22, said yesterday at the Shinchon branch of the Megabox multiplex chain in Seoul.

▽ Awakening a soul weary of a humdrum life.

Creating the term “my partner syndrome,” “Old Partner” is subtle but haunting enough to linger on in a person’s mind. Critics have praised it for awakening souls weary of the daily routine by showing purity and unprocessed emotions that have long been forgotten.

Others say the strong bond between human and animal shown in the movie strongly appeals to Koreans, who are reeling from bad news in politics, the economy and society.

Culture critic Kim Heon-sik said the inseparable bond built over 40 years between the old man and his cow has struck a chord with Koreans, who are facing an uncertain future due to the economic crisis. “The strong bond seen in the movie must’ve deeply touched the hearts of viewers at a time when selfishness resigns on the pretext of financial difficulty,” he said.

Others say the movie’s popularity lies with the desire of the people to regain their lost identity and return to their roots through a primordial existence free from artificial things and unfulfilled desires. To those tired of watching shallow and formulaic love stories, the movie also express what true affection and compassion are.

Culture critic Kim Jong-hwi said “Old Partner” shows the essence of life in contrast to tear-jerking soap operas and provocative entertainment shows that dominate TV.

Hwang Sang-min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University, said, “The movie is not dramatic but has touched something in the void of contemporary society. The movie answers the fundamental question of what is precious and what life is for.”

sohn@donga.com jjj@donga.com