Few films have addressed the trauma of immigrating to a new country, and fewer have been as emotionally compelling as Anthony Shim’s RICEBOY SLEEPS. After losing her husband, So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) relocates to Canada in the 1990s with her young son, Dong-hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang as a child, Ethan Hwang as a teenager) in tow. There, they must fight for acceptance and respect. Dong-hyun is brutally bullied by his classmates, and he isn’t helped by the timid, distinctly Canadian racism of his teacher and principal, who consider the family “troublesome.” At work, So-young battles loneliness and racist and sexist comments. As they negotiate with their separate circumstances, the rift between mother and son grows. Unwelcome news sparks an unplanned return to South Korea — and the in-laws So-young hasn’t spoken to in many years — but might open up the possibility of mutual understanding. Winner of the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Rogers Award for Best Canadian Film, director, writer, co-producer and editor Anthony Shim (Daughter) joins us for a conversation on the very personal inspiration for the film, getting the outstanding performances from Choi Seung-yoon, Noel Hwang and Ethan Hwang, filming in South Korea and the critical importance of Christopher Lew’s masterful cinematography.
About the filmmaker – Anthony Shim moved with his family to the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam when he was still quite young. He began his career as an actor, landing roles in both film and television. He made his full-length feature debut as a director with Daughter, which premiered at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival. Riceboy Sleeps, his second feature film, premiered in the Platform Prize competition at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and was named winner of the Platform Prize. In addition to many other awards, Riceboy Sleeps also won the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association, which comes with $100,000, considered the richest annual film prize in Canada. In an interview about the film, Shim said the movie is “semi-autobiographical and largely based on my experience as an immigrant living in Canada in the 90s. It is a story which I have been wanting to tell for quite some time. It is about a mother and her son, and how they come to terms with life in this new environment and culture. Over time and due to a series of unfortunate events, they go back to their home country to visit their relatives.” Anthony Shim is pictured with his 2023 Canadian Scree Award for Original Screenplay for his film Riceboy Sleeps.
“The extraordinary Riceboy Sleeps is a revelation that reverberates days after seeing it. Its power is in its subtlety and spare style, we aren’t so much watching mother and son as living inside them, a phenomenal achievement for filmmaker Anthony Shim.” – Anne Brodie, What She Said
“This tender and tragic film gracefully expresses not only the sense of being an outsider, but tells the story in a way that all audiences can understand, making it easier for viewers to relate to the immigrant experience in a mostly white country.” – Louisa Moore, Screen Zealots