Receiving its world premiere in the World Fantastic Cinema program at Puchon Film Festival, Oldmen Never Die (죽지않아) quickly won over critics and audiences alike. So much so, in fact, that director Hwang Cheol-mean’s (황철민) dark comedy-drama went on to win PiFan’s LG HiEntech Award for best Korean independent feature film.
Oldmen Never Die is a competent and solid addition to director Hwang’s filmography. The film takes an awfully long time to find direction, but once it does it becomes a very entertaining portrayal of greed and lust, as well as an illuminating examination of the generational differences in Korean society.
When greedy slacker Ji-hoon (Cha Rae-hyeong (차래형) learns of his estranged grandfather Hal-bae’s (Lee Bong-gyoo (이봉규) vast fortune, he becomes incredibly excited; even more so upon discovering that the old man has cancer and will likely die in the near future. While his liberal father wants nothing to do with the inheritance, such morality is of no concern to Ji-hoon and he travels into the countryside to gain his grandfather’s favour. Yet after four years of manual labour on the family farm, the old man still hasn’t died. Worse still, he has beaten his illness and his once greying hair is turning black. As Ji-hoon’s frustrations reach boiling point matters become even further complicated by the arrival of attractive city girl Eun-joo, who begins seducing Hal-bae for her own gain.
Oldmen Never Die is an accomplished film, and is highly interesting due to the examination of generational values throughout. None of the characters that inhabit the film are inherently ‘good’ people, and director Hwang explores their respective ideologies utilising dark comedy-drama. Grandfather Hal-bae is a horribly rude fascist who has profited from Korea’s military dictatorship, estranged from his family due to disagreeing with his son partaking in pro-democracy demonstrations. Grandson Ji-hoon meanwhile exemplifies the lazy money-orientated younger generation. All three men find it impossible to understand each other, and the clashes between Hal-bae’s constant vitriol and Ji-hoon’s childish sulking are as amusing as they are revealing.
However it’s actress Han Eun-bi as gold digger Eun-joo who steals the limelight. Oldmen Never Die struggles to find direction during the entire first act, yet Eun-joo’s arrival at the farm gives the film a much-needed sense of purpose and compulsion. While Eun-joo is also morally questionable as she seduces elderly Hal-bae for money, Han Eun-bi’s performance injects enough charisma, alongside some intriguing dialogue, to strike the right balance between amoral and very misguided. Indeed, the best scenes in the film belong to her. From tempting Hal-bae with her voluptuous body in a daring red bikini, to more subtle moments expressing her disgust at being touched and the situation generally, Eun-joo’s presence – and complexity – make the film compelling viewing.
Unfortunately with the greater focus placed on Eun-joo’s seduction of Hal-bae, the same cannot be said of Ji-hoon whose lack of development results in the character spending far too much screen time sulking. The opportunity to explore the conflict between Ji-hoon and Eun-joo as they both fight for Hal-bae’s affections is never fully capitalised on, and as such the lack of tension makes Oldmen Never Die a very low key affair. The subdued nature of the film is odd given that the relationships become increasingly strained, although the style does lend more realism to the story as opposed to other more contrived examples of the genre. As such, Oldmen Never Die doesn’t really fulfill the potential offered by the characters, yet is still a highly competent and interesting generational examination.
Oldmen Never Die is an accomplished independent film that examinations Korea’s generational differences to illuminating effect. Director Hwang Cheol-mean’s dark comedy-drama explores the themes of greed, lust and amorality through manipulative bids for a large inheritance, within which Han Eun-bi’s performance as temptress Eun-joo steals the show. While the film takes a long time to find direction and the subdued nature is at odds with the intended tension, Oldmen Never Die is a highly competent and interesting portrayal of the ideological differences amongst Korea’s disparate generations.