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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Riceboy Sleeps (M) - 117 minutes

A powerful, sensitive and affecting work in Korean and English, Riceboy Sleeps is a coming-of-age legacy story.

 

On a cold winter’s night in 1960, So-Young (Choi Seung-yoon) was discovered on the steps of a temple in Korea wrapped in a blanket.

 

No one knew where she came from.

 

Moved from one orphanage to another, when she came of age she packed her bags and left for the city, where she worked tirelessly.

 

One of her jobs was at a popular bar near a university, which was where she met a young student who had just returned from finishing his military service.

 

He was the son of poor rice farmers.

 

So-Young and that man became inseparable, but his mental health deteriorated.

 

Suffering from schizophrenia, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and took his own life, leaving behind So-Young and their newborn son.

 

As the baby was born out of wedlock, by law he couldn’t have citizenship.

 

So, again, So-Young packed her bags to start a new life in Canada, where she took a job in a factory.

After a narrator’s introduction, giving the back story, which I have just provided, Riceboy Sleeps unfolds in two time frames – 1990 and 1999.

 

It is So-Young’s journey and that of her son, Dong-Hyun, played as a Grade 1 student by Dohyn Noel Hwang and then, as a 15-year-old, by Ethan Hwang.

 

Both So-Young and her son are headstrong.

 

So-Young is determined to provide a better life for Dong-Hyun than the one she left behind.

 

She tries to teach Dong-Hyun resilience, including standing up for himself when he faces discrimination and bullying.

 

Dong-Hyun develops attitude and it is not uncommon for the pair to clash.

 

So-Young avoids any and all questions from Dong-Hyun about his father, until a devastating development changes all of that.

Riceboy Sleeps is very much a personal story for writer, director and actor Anthony Shim.

 

His family emigrated from South Korea to Canada in 1994, when he was eight.

 

He grew up on Vancouver Island, where he was often the only Asian child in school.

 

He was looked at and treated like an alien, so he desperately tried to fit in.

 

These are just some of the images Shim – who has also edited the film – captured in Riceboy Sleeps.

 

It is a movie of quality and substance, with naturalism at its core.

 

I very much believed what I was seeing unfold thanks to the striking characterisations.

So-Young is the glue that binds the piece together.

 

Choi Seung-yoon plays her as generally quiet but gutsy. You can tell just how much So-Young has endured and continues to bear – always ready to face adversity.

 

Dohyn Noel Hwang is a loner, cute and bewildered as son Dong-Hyun, while Ethan Hwang is noteworthy as a rebellious teen.

 

A gentle soul in the film is the character of Simon (played by writer and director Anthony Shim), who has faced his own challenges and takes a shine to So-Young.

 

The cinematography by Christopher Lew well captures the cultural divide between Canada and Korea.

 

I also appreciated the mood-setting music by Andrew Yong Hoon Lee.

 

Riceboy Sleeps moved me greatly – no scene more than that focusing on So-Young in the Korean mountains towards the end of the film.

 

Rated M, it is special and scores an 8½ out of 10.

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