September 29, 2022

VIFF 2022 | Korean-Canadian Memories – 'Riceboy Sleeps' Well

"A man is only allowed to cry three times in his life."
Choi Seung-yoon Ethan Hwang Anthony Shim | Riceboy Sleeps | VIFF 2022
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2022—Sophomore filmmaker Anthony Shim writes and directs a beautifully touching Korean-Canadian mother-son family drama full of social realism inspired by his own childhood in Riceboy Sleeps. Set and shot mostly in the sleepy Vancouver suburbs (filmed in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows), we follow an immigrant single mother struggling to raise her young son with cultural pride while assimilating in 1990s Canada.

So-young (a stunning Choi Seung-yoon), a South Korean widow and orphan herself, desperately wants to instill her own sense of values in raising her son Dong-hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang at six and Ethan Hwang at fifteen) but struggles with her own past and lack of family history in a new home. Their loving yet combative bond is such a wonderful thing to see on screen while being isolated together in their community so far away.

Set in the thick of the nineties when Asian immigration to the west was only starting to become commonplace, Shim includes simple yet specific gestures about daily life. From the excitement of meeting someone new who shares your language and culture to the soft racism of uncommon names or looking different to smelly lunches, the film offers detailed small moments of extended sequences without any cuts or coverage to highlight the universal everyday situations dramatized.

Shim has crafted a wondrously sad but affecting film about parental love and loss wrapped in culturally rich Southeast Asian themes complementary to the displacement shown in something like Minari. Its small-scale but focused and long-take approach (shot on 16mm) to capturing the simmering performances allow the actors to beautifully unleash genuine emotions.

Riceboy Sleeps screens at the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Northern Lights series at the Vancouver Playhouse on September 30th and Rio Theatre on October 3rd (also VIFF Centre on October 12th).

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