Hal-bae (Lee Byong-gyoo) is one of those mean, vindictive grandfathers who demands constant hard labor for the sake of character building and pines for the good old days. But Hal-bae is even less politically correct than a typical grandfather. He openly despises communists, accuses anyone who slightly disagrees with him of being a communist, is cruel to anyone he considers lazy, and even rewards the people he likes with verbal abuse. Ji-hoon (played by Cha Rae-hyung) has decided to live with his grandfather Hal-bae, and on Hal-bae's terms, because Hal-bae's miserly ways have made him a very wealthy man.
The main appeal behind "Old Men Never Die" is the absence of character knowledge. Hal-bae is very outspoken about his opinions and Lee Byong-goo's performance is what carries the film. Curiously, the story is never told from his perspective. While it becomes clear early on that he knows Ji-hoon is only on the farm in order to claim the inheritance, this information doesn't seem to bother him. There's a deliberate malice to Hal-bae's actions throughout the film, but it's never clear what the purpose is, or even if there's a purpose.
The film ends up taking the perspective of a warped morality tale. None of the characters we meet are particularly sympathetic. As vicious as Hal-bae is, Ji-hoon's friends aren't much better. It's a fascinating point of comparison, because even when Hal-bae is wishing horrible torturous fates on vague aquaintances, there's a certain work ethic and philosophy behind his horrible opinions that must be respected, however loathsome it is.
By contrast, Ji-hoon and the young people he keeps company with are materialistic nihilists. Which seems like a contradiction, certainly, and if any of these people had any sense of self-awareness they might notice this fact. But they do not, in fact, actually understand anything about the world except that they hate it. Expensive drugs and cars are sort of all right. Notions like family or love, however, are quite alien. Ji-hoon complains more about the hard work on the farm than he does his grandfather's fascist political beliefs.
They do think they understand a lot about people, though, however obvious circumstances make it clear that they don't. The negotiations between these characters constantly take on a sardonic twist, where characters think they're acting logically, but in actuality they're just being spiteful and using poorly thought out critical reasoning as an excuse. Thanks to an inflated sense of self-worth, these young people accept or reject arrangements from a much weaker position than they generally assume.
"Old Men Never Die" is about the clash between the fascist grandfathers of yesteryear and the equally vicious youth who are held back from being just as bad mainly from a lack of maturity, competence, and power. It's a surprisingly effective testament about the arrogance of youth and how modern culture just encourages us to avoid directly discussing our own malfeasances without suggesting we actually rein them in. Regardless of whether Hal-bae is really berating Ji-hoon, there's always this deeply unacknowledged insecurity boiling inside him that suspects abusive treatment is all he deserves.
This review was written by William Schwartz as a part of HanCinema's PiFan (Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival) coverage.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Old Men Never Die""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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