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TIFF 2022 Review: Riceboy Sleeps

A family tragedy in South Korea causes a young woman and her child to seek a new life in Canada only to find themselves the subject of racial prejudices.  

Through narration it is revealed that So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) had an affair and child with a fellow student who subsequently committed suicide; because of the societal ramifications for her son, she decides to move to Canada.  Factory worker So-young has a close relationship with the adolescent Dong-hyn who is the subject of racial taunts from his classmates to the point he wants to distance himself from his heritage by requesting luncheons from his mother that are not Korean.   A time-lapse occurs where the teenager has grown more distant from his single parent but devastating medical news causes them to reassess their relationship and head back to South Korea to reconnect with the family that was left behind.

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The heart and soul of the immigrant drama is Choi Seung-yoon who authentically conveys someone struggling to hold her little family together while contending the institutional and social prejudices; the most touching moments are the quiet ones she has with Dohyun Noel Hwang as the adolescent son such as reading a book together or having dinner.  Less convincing are the interactions between Choi Seung-yoon and Ethan Hwang as the rebellious teenager except for one scene when they travel on the back of a farm vehicle and go through the belongings of his deceased father.  The acts of racism contribute to the audience’s empathy but are treated heavy-handedly rather than organically.

An interesting choice is to have the backstory told over various landscape shots of South Korea in a1.33: 1 aspect ratio; there is an openness and vastness to the image that was shot on 16 mm film.  It is revisited again when mother and son return to their homeland.  However, the time in Canada was shot in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which is also known as 16:9, a typical format for television programs.  The end result is something that has a constrictive aesthetic and reflects the societal struggles.  Where things get visually distracting is with the lensing of the scenes in Canada as there is a fisheye feel to the shots that makes one aware what is being watched is a movie rather than a documentary.

The 47th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18, 2022, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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