Writer-director Anthony Shim’s Riceboy Sleeps, his second feature film, is a wondrously heart-warming and emotionally charged coming-of-age story that explores the relationship between immigrant single mother So-young (Choi Seung-yoon), and her son Dong-Hyun (The Umbrella Academy’s Ethan Hwang), as they make a new life for themselves in Canada during the 1990s. Much in the same way as Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, Shim’s picture is a nostalgic and hard-hitting portrait of family.
Before we meet the pair, Shim tugs at our heartstrings with an opening narration which explains So-young’s tragic past and the reason why she left South Korea. We then meet So-young and her young son (Dohyun Noel Hwang) as she drops him off for his first day at school while she goes to work at a thankless factory job. We see both mother and child encounter forms of discrimination during the day (the youngster is teased for his lunch, whereas she’s groped by male employees). Shim uses these moments to keenly observe how casual racism crops up in society, a sentiment that’s encapsulated when So-young confronts the school authorities for only punishing her son for a playground altercation.
A time skip jumps nine years later. Dong-hyun is now in high school and So-young is seeing a kind-hearted man named Simon (Shim). However, questions about his father and an unexpected turn of events see the pair’s minds return to the subject of family.
There’s a palpable sense of tenderness and intimacy throughout the entirety of this film. Alongside stellar performances from the leading stars, Shim hangs onto various longshots to allow for the moments to set in and give viewers the time needed to unpick and digest the layers of emotion going on in any given scene. A euphoric score from Andrew Yong Hoon Lee likewise elevates this film to tremendous heights.
A third-act trip to South Korea doesn’t just provide a change of scenery, but serves to tie in each thematic point Shim raises in his script. Family, heritage, identity, love – everything comes to a satisfying and tear-jerking end on a picturesque mountaintop. With Riceboy Sleep, Shim has created something truly spectacular.
Riceboy Sleeps does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
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