Immigrant drama ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ hits festival circuit, buoyed by praise from TIFF

TORONTO — Newly named a filmmaker to watch by the Toronto International Film Festival, Anthony Shim brings his acclaimed mother-son drama « Riceboy Sleeps » to a local crowd at the Vancouver International Film Festival this week.

Shim’s portrayal of a Korean family struggling with unresolved trauma and racism in Canada won TIFF’s prestigious $20,000 platform prize earlier this month, just as he launched a festival circuit which also takes him to the Calgary International Film Festival on Tuesday and Friday.

At TIFF, Shim noted that much of the film’s portrayal of coming-of-age and parental angst is inspired by his own experiences in British Columbia in the 1990s, but several storylines were invented. for dramatic effect.

The bilingual story centers on young widow So-young, played by Korean actress Choi Seung-yoon, who seeks a fresh start in Canada with her son Dong-hyun, played by Dohyun Noel Hwang as a child, and Ethan Hwang. during teenagehood.

Cultural barriers immediately emerge, with Dong-hyun insulted on the playground and So-young baffled by the school’s indifference.

Like his immigrant characters, Shim says he struggled in his youth to understand the occasional racism he faced. As he grew up, he gradually realized that schoolyard taunts continued to affect him into adulthood.

“I’ve heard every name you can imagine. But it was quite common at the time. Name calling is part of being kids, I guess,” says Shim, who moved from Seoul to British Columbia in 1994 at the age of eight with his mother, father and sister.

« It wasn’t until I was older that I looked back and thought, Wow, this really affected my own perception of myself and how I started to relate to myself. behave in adolescence…. It was about adapting and integrating.

« It got to a point where I started thinking, ‘Is this really me? Do I dress this way, do I make myself look this way and do I talk this way because that’s really who I am Or am I trying my best to fit in?

Shim says his family first moved to Burnaby, but left a few months later for the Vancouver Island town of Duncan, where he was « the only Korean boy in school. » They later moved to Victoria, and Shim says « Riceboy Sleeps » is largely inspired by his time there. Most of the filming took place in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge on the east end of Greater Vancouver.

Still, Shim says he had no intention of making a soul-baring portrait or using film to process buried pain: « I wanted to make a film about the Korean-Canadian immigrant experience of in a way that was familiar to me.

He was inspired by Barry Jenkins’ harrowing 2016 coming-of-age indie, « Moonlight, » about a young black man in Miami struggling to find his place in the world.

« I went, ‘There’s a movie about a specific community.’ A specific type of people. And it’s so raw and honest. And yet it can still be so universal, » he says.

« It was a great encouragement like, ‘Oh, I think it’s about time, someone needs to make a movie about Asian male adolescence in a way that I liked.' »

Shim’s personal connection to « Riceboy Sleeps » was evident on the final day of TIFF when the writer-director received the platform award. He thanked the festival programmers who « literally changed my life » and choked back tears while thanking his mother and sister, « who always believed I could do things like this ».

After screenings in Vancouver on Friday and Monday, « Riceboy Sleeps » makes its international premiere to Korean audiences at the Busan International Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 5-14.

The overseas debut will provide another emotional reference for the film, predicts Shim, who shot the final part in South Korea. The locations included the small farming village Woniljeon-ri where his grandfather grew up and where many of his distant relatives still live.

“There is also a special place in my heart for this city (Busan) – my aunt lives there and so I have been going there since I was a child,” Shim says.

“Vancouver and then Busan – we get these screenings for all the cast and crew that we’ve worked with, and in those two countries. Everything is working. «

The Calgary International Film Festival runs through Sunday. The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from Thursday to October 9.

“Riceboy Sleeps” is slated for theatrical release next year in Canada and the United States.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 27, 2022.


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