The 80-year-old man and his 40-year-old ox


By Sohn Min-Ho, Korea JoongAng Daily (S.Korea)

February 15, 2021


Many Korean moviegoers remember the 2009 documentary “Old Partner.” The film had many in tears with the story of 80-year-old farmer “Grandpa Choi Won-gyun” and his 40-year-old ox. The heartwarming scene still remains like a faded photograph in the remote countryside town of Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang.


“Old Partner” was filmed at 722, Sangun-myeon, Hanul-ri, Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang. At the time, it broke the record for the most-watched documentary film in Korean movie history. Twelve years have passed since the movie premiered and although Grandpa Choi, his wife and his beloved ox have all passed, they still remain together as their graves are side by side. 


The 80-year-old man and his 40-year-old ox


“Old Partner,” directed by Lee Chung-ryoul, was released in theaters on Jan. 15, 2009. It attracted a total audience of three million — a remarkable accomplishment for a documentary, especially at the time — and won awards at numerous international film festivals. The production cost was under 100 million won ($89,000), but the film raked in 1.9 billion won in ticket sales alone; an unprecedented record for a Korean documentary. 


The plot of the film is simple. The late Grandpa Choi (1929-2013) and his wife Lee Sam-soon (1938-2019) reside in the countryside village of Bonghwa and farm their plot of land with an old ox. The film ends when the ox dies and although it appears to be a simple story, many found it touching. 


An ox’s average life span is 15 years, which means Grandpa Choi’s ox lived three time as long. The ox’s tombstone reads: “Nureongi (1967-2008).” Nureongi worked on farmer Choi’s land, which Choi lived on all his life, for 30 years. 


Grandpa Choi’s eldest son Choi Young-doo, aged 67, remembers when the family first got the ox.


“I was born in 1954. My family bought the ox when I was in high school,” said Young-doo. “I remember clearly because since then, I went around cutting straw to feed the ox with my father. I don’t know its exact age but it lived around 40 years.”


The limping man and the sluggish ox ...


A family cemetery ...


An old partner ...


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