Credit Glasgow Film Festival

Glasgow Film Festival 2023: Riceboy sleeps

By Victoria Chang

A honest and heart-wrenching depiction of the Asian-Canadian Experience.

One of the listed influences of the Glasgow Film Festival is the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as it tries to emulate their “‘festival of festivals’ supporting grassroots organizations […] with a focus on audiences”. It is no wonder that Glasgow is host to the UK premiere of Riceboy Sleeps: a film made by Asian-Canadian actor and director Anthony Shim, and the winner of TIFF’s 2022 Platform Prize. This heart-wrenching film is also nominated for Glasgow Film Festival’s Audience Award, which is voted on by audience members to highlight first or second-time filmmakers. 

Riceboy Sleeps focuses on the mother-son duo of So-Young and Dong-Hyun Kim, immigrating from South Korea to Canada in the 1990s. The first part, when Dong-Hyun is in elementary school and subsequently renamed David at the suggestion of his teacher, mainly concerns the rough reality of Asian immigrants adjusting to the Western world. The bullying, name-calling, and racist microaggressions are reminiscent of my own childhood and that of many other Asian-Canadians growing up in Canada in that time period. It is startling how real and truthful the story is, and the cinematography used by Shim makes you feel like you are a keen observer, slowly scanning the scene and absorbing all the pointed actions and words. 

In this way, it could be considered a prelude to Lee Issac Chung’s Minari, as it focuses on the initial transition of a Korean family into a foreign country. (In Minari, the Korean family had already lived in California and Seattle before moving to Arkansas). However, the second part, where Dong-Hyun is now fifteen-years-old, bears a resemblance to Minari’s focus on family dynamics and how they endure under stress. A main theme in Riceboy Sleeps is So-Young as a single mother and the enduring absence of a husband and father figure in the household. It diverges from the warmheartedness of Minari by how isolated this mother and son seem from the outside world and from each other. The other characters often act as antagonists to the mother-son bond rather than supporting characters. 

So-Young also refuses to tell her son anything about his father, and as a consequence he struggles with his identity. It is fulfilling to then see the fullness in character as an individual and as a family come to fruition when So-Young returns to South Korea with Dong-Hyun. Shim also reflects this development in the story with a change in aspect ratio to 16:9 (widescreen format), from the previous 4:3 (square format) ratio of the previous two parts.  In the end, Shim’s film acts as a wonderful addition to the recent influx of South Korean talent into mainstream Western cinema, riding on the tails of his hero Bong Joon-Ho and his Oscar-winning work Parasite, as well as the aforementioned Minari. The hope is that this is an enduring trend towards diversity in modern filmmaking, and not just a passing pop-culture fad.


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