Pensioners and their ox plough South Korea box office

Fri Feb 20, 2009 3:25am EST
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By Kim Junghyun

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - A South Korean documentary about a grumpy grandmother, a blunt grandfather and their loyal ox has become a surprise box office hit, luring audiences with its portrayal of a way of life fading fast in the modern country.

The tender movie called "Old Partner" tells of the hardscrabble life of an aging couple trying to eke out a living in the South Korean countryside and their ox that has served them for 30 years.

So far, it has attracted more than 1 million viewers in the country of 49 million, including South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who made a rare trip to a Seoul cinema to see it last week.

"Some people have said this film is like a lottery ticket that accidentally hits the jackpot," Lee Chung-ryoul, the documentary's director, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Lee said he started thinking of making a movie like this during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis that hit South Korea hard. At that time, a popular theme in the media was how far fathers needed to go to provide for their families, he said.

The film's opening coincides with the global financial crisis, which has battered South Korea's economy and made the theme relevant again, Lee said. "This film reminds people of their own parents and hometowns, and that's universal," he added.

After a long search, the director came across what he felt was the perfect couple, a laconic rice farmer named Choi Won-gyun, 80, his cantankerous wife Lee Sam-soon, 77, and an ox they never bothered to name.

The documentary tracks them through the seasons and shows how farmer Lee, who has a deformed leg, has come to rely on the ox for work and to draw a cart that transports him.   Continued...