Found on a cold winter’s evening as a baby wrapped in a blanket, no one knew where So-young was from. As she grew up, she bounced around from one orphanage to the next before packing her bags when she got older and leaving to live in a big city. So-young hoped for nothing more than to work hard and start life afresh. One of her jobs was working at a popular bar near a university, and around the same time, she met a young student who had just returned from his time in the military. The two became impossible to separate from one another, and their time together was always filled with happiness. However, as time passed, the young man began to have difficulty differentiating reality from his imagination. Suffering from schizophrenia, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he took his own life, leaving behind So-young and their newborn son.
After hearing So-young’s history through narration, we meet up with So-young (Choi Seung-yoon) and her young son Dong-hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang, playing the child Dong-hyun) in 1990. So-young is once again trying to start afresh. Dong-hyun is currently in grade one at school and is beginning to experience teasing and bullying, mostly for being Korean and eating different kinds of food. When So-young hears about his harsh nickname ‘Riceboy’, she encourages him to stand up for himself, not be defeated, and never let others see him upset. So-young didn’t have a good upbringing, and now she is determined to do everything to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself for her son.
Riceboy Sleeps is a drama film by Anthony Shim, who also directed Daughter in 2019. The film takes its audience on a journey that hits hard in the heart, given the many challenges and personal hurdles faced by both So-young and Dong-hyun. We don’t just get to see one part of their lives; however, instead racing through time to see Dong-hyun as a young boy and teenager (Ethan Hwang as teenaged Dong-hyun).
The performances here are terrific, and it’s impossible not to get emotional during the many compelling scenes. The film carries many themes and positive messages, which I also appreciated. The style is praiseworthy, particularly the tracking shots that give viewers a full understanding of what’s occurring with multiple characters and perfectly creating atmosphere and gripping drama. Pacing is one area; however, is the film’s biggest weakness. The movie feels far longer than it should, and certain scenes, particularly in the third act, felt unnecessary or not integral to the story and plot.
Overall, if you’re seeking a drama film that will leave you with a heavy heart as well as uplifted and inspired in some form, Riceboy Sleeps is worth a cinema ticket. As for drama, I can’t deny it; this film impacted me greatly and delivered many unexpected moments. The performances are great, and I loved the surprising journey this film took me on over time. The filming style here is excellent, particularly the tracking shots, which highlight key dramatic moments and give viewers a greater insight into the many powerful moments. Pacing is the film’s biggest hurdle, feeling far longer than the run time. Some scenes even feel unnecessary through the third act.
Riceboy Sleeps (2022) is Now Available in Australian Cinemas!