Embraced at both the Pusan and Sundance film festivals, poetic Korean documentary “Old Partner” captures the uncommon love story between feeble old farmer Choi and his trusty ox, a bond by which the two stubborn but mutually respectful parties have sustained one another for nearly 40 years. Universally appealing in its simplicity, pic follows the pair through their last year together, during which both seem weary enough to keel over at any time. Not since Robert Bresson’s Balthazar has a beast of burden been so tenderly portrayed on film, making for a modest, memorable arthouse release with great word-of-mouth potential.
What little dialogue auds get in the film originates mostly from Choi’s slightly younger wife, who nags him constantly for taking better care of his ox than he does her. She has a point: While she toils in the fields, Choi takes long breaks to feed his ox dandelions, and though he plays deaf to his wife’s carping, the old farmer springs to life whenever he hears the cowbell. Like a record of another time, pic’s central conflict involves whether the farmer will be forced to sell his irreplaceable companion.