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Film Review: Riceboy Sleeps (2022) by Anthony Shim

One of the best Asian American films

Winner of the Audience Award at Busan and San Diego Asian Film Festival, and the Platform in Toronto, among a plethora of other awards in festivals all around the world, “” is a film that highlights the progress of Asian-American cinema in the best fashion, as one of its best representatives.

Riceboy Sleeps screened at Red Sea International Film Festival

The film begins in 1990, in Canada, when So-young, a widow and a single mother, arrives and tries to make a new life there along with her baby son. However, things are not easy, as she has to work long hours in the factory that employs her, while Dong-hyun is bullied at school by other children who call him riceboy due to the Korean meals his mother packs for him. A violent incident makes things worse while highlighting the mentality of the then Canadian environment towards immigrants. Ten years later, Dong-hyun is called David, has dyed his hair blonde, and tries to adapt by assimilating, although the fact that his mother never mentions his father does torment him. Her life also is better, with her having made friends of some of her colleagues and even having a boyfriend. However, a violent incident and some dire news make So-young take a significant decision.

directs a film that does a number of things well, but most of all succeeds in presenting a rather realistic story about grief and displacement, while avoiding the reef of having another melodrama about the hardships immigrants face. As such, his characters are not presented as victims, with the groping scene in the factory highlighting the fact in the best degree, but as regular people, whose issues are universal and not immigrant-specific. This approach actually intensifies the dramatic element of the movie, without, though, crossing into melodramatic paths, with Shim retaining a wonderful balance throughout the three parts of the movie.

Furthermore, the analysis of his characters is equally great, with him examining them through different timeframes, locations, and their reactions to the events that shape their life, with the way the story progresses in that regard being another of the movie's best traits. The catharsis that is offered in the finale also works nicely, concluding the story by essentially offering the same sentiments to the viewer. 

This aspect benefits the most by the great acting of , who manages to portray a gamut of different feelings and psychological statuses in the best fashion, with her anger, sadness, joy and relief all being portrayed with equal competence. Shim anchored the film upon her, and she delivered in excellent fashion. who plays young David steals the show on a number of occasions, most of all the Michael Jordan scene, while in the teenage version plays the moody adolescent quite realistically. 

DP Christopher Lew ha also done a tremendous job in the presentation of the eras, with the 16mm camera resulting in rather fittingly retro images, while the single-camera approach also works excellently here. Shim's own editing results in a mid-tempo that suits the context nicely, while the placement of the setting/timeline frame within the narrative is ideal.

“Riceboy Sleeps” is an impressive debut, a story that is both meaningful and entertaining, and a a rather well-shot movie that is bound to find admirers throughout the cinematic spectrum. 

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia.

Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute.

In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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