By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
To have choices in life is a luxury, to have no choices at all is all about survival. Riceboy Sleeps, the award-winning closing night film at the 23rd San Diego Asian Film Festival is about survival.
So-Young (Choi Seung Yoon) never thought she would leave South Korea. She had a newborn son, she had no family as she grew up as an orphan and the father of her son who was her true love committed suicide. As her son Dong-Hyun was born out of wedlock, he would never be able to receive South Korean citizenship, so her choice was really one of no choice and she packed up her life for Canada to start fresh. Noel Hwang plays Dong-Hyng at 6 and Ethan Hwang plays him at 16.
Building her new life with her young son in Canada during the 1990s was no easy feat for So-Young. Without any family or social support networks, she was able to find a stable factory job and get Dong-Hyun into school and put her tragic past behind her. As Dong-Hyun grows up he starts to question his family’s past and generational trauma causes a rift between mother and son. All this changes when their future together becomes uncertain and unceremoniously stolen away.
The wonderful film that touches on so many themes of family relationships, resilience and generational trauma. Written and Directed by Korean Canadian filmmaker Anthony Shim, Riceboy Sleeps represents the ‘can do’ attitude of Asian migrant families. At SDAFF, the film won both the ‘Audience Award’ and the ‘Best Narrative Feature Award’, which are additions to an already growing collection of awards the film has achieved this year at other major international film festivals.
The story behind the film was actually inspired by Shim’s experience growing up in Vancouver in the 90s. It was also an opportunity for him to unravel his own identity issues and to see how deep his relationship with his mother is.
“The story for this film comes from a real truthful place within me, and I also wanted to show how a mother’s love in a new environment can overcome all aspects of survival,” said Shim to AsAmNews.
For lead actress Choi playing So-Young was a new experience for her. Choi was born and lives in South Korea and has never known the ‘Asian migrant to the West’ experience. In addition, this is also her first film role – watching it, you could not tell as her performance was impeccable.
“The more I thought about it, I knew she was my grandma and my mom,” she said to me. “So I drew on their characteristics to put my best performance as So-Young”.
Shim’s mom taught him to fight back and in the film, So-Young taught Dong-Hyun to fight back and speak up when he was not being treated fairly, and this goes against the idea of the ‘model minority’ meaning being appreciative and not speaking up.
“Like many Asian and migrant kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s in environments where there wasn’t a lot of diversity being subjected to racism and negative Asian jokes is a common and shared experience”, Shim mentioned.
Finally, in the current environment of anti-Asian hate, how can a film like Riceboy Sleeps change the narrative.
“This is personal for me, and I feel like it is the job of artists like myself to bear some of our own life in our work. When we are Asian a lot of ourselves is experiencing racial trauma growing up and I think if we put this against the news of anti-Asian hate in Canada, US etc, our experiences is one which is also educational”, Shim expressed.
‘Riceboy Sleeps’ has been doing the international film festival circuit, so if you are interested in checking it out, keep an eye on upcoming film festivals.
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