Old Partner: An Interview with Lee Chung-ryoul
Topping the Korean box office is no small feat for a first-time filmmaker, given the perennial offerings of sassy romantic comedies and vivid, attention-grabbing genre flicks from this nation’s impressive stable of film artists. It’s even more improbable when you’ve made a no-frills documentary (not so popular in South Korea) for less than $150,000 about the relationship between an elderly farmer and his aged ox. But a few months after it hit the market at the 2008 Pusan International Film Festival, where it won the best documentary award, Lee Chung-ryoul’s Old Partner became one of the most successful indies in Korean film history, playing on more than 150 local screens and drawing 1 million viewers on word-of-mouth buzz alone. It went on to jostle for the Grand Jury Prize in world documentary at Sundance last January, the first time a Korean documentary has been entered in the Park City competition. No one must have been more surprised than Lee, a veteran TV producer whose humble maiden feature—a human-bovine buddy film—has captured the imagination of audiences from Seoul to Vienna.