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Riceboy Sleeps – TIFF 2022 Film Review

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Sphere Films International

At this point in time, in our alternating film-market, the coming-of-age sub-genre is basically an all-Canadian hallmark. If we trace back to the route of Canada's central mission with film-distribution, their financing outlook is largely dependent on green-lighting projects specifically related to relevant sociological stories & causes. Canadian-produced blockbusters are rare in Canada, due to their stringent amount of budgetary concerns. The government would rather fund independent fare over the typical Hollywood narrative; whilst providing services to American productions for tax-credit involvement. Their end-goal is to amplify voices — more specifically stories from artists with different perspectives on the Canuck lifestyle and their various traumas which replicate from our communal growing pains. Canada is a diverse country; as multiculturalism grows in gentrified metropolises. Not every film produced in Canada follows under the hyper-specific conventions of a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama. That being said, Canadian filmmakers are somewhat infamously known for their distribution of the aforementioned sub-genre as of late. After all, the genre provides a familiar framework — an easy route for newcomer talent to connect with their singular experiences. This year alone, Canada's coming-of-age output included Trevor Anderson's Before I Change My Mind, Chandler Levack's I Like Movies, Nyla Innuksuk's Slash/Back, and 's Riceboy Sleeps

In the case of Shim's sophomore feature, Riceboy Sleeps implements a prevalent theme of assimilation in his respective coming-of-age patchwork. The film is a visual feast, alternating between the manufactured suburbia of Canada and Korea's expansive rural countryside. Shot on 16mm Kodak film, Shim utilises effective mise-en-scène to amplify his character's integration into Canadian society. The wide-lenses construct a spherical frame; as the camera is constantly moving in perpetual motion. The characters are entrapped — forced to move with the rest of Canada's anglocentric standards as the camera's restless body continuously enters and exits through transitional spaces. Liminality is a powerful metaphor in Shim's oeuvre, as the bond between mother and son slowly disintegrates with their conflicting ideals and somber pursuits for wellness. In moments of fleeting communion, Shim rests his camera steadily within the inertia of domestic beauty. 

Still Courtesy – Sphere Films International

At the height of his directorial evocations, Shim misses the mark with his linear storytelling approach. The structure of the film undercuts the quintessential tension of various scenes, including but not limited to the emotional payoff of the film's academia subplots. The expository introduction, set against the sumptuous flora of Korea's wilderness, merely reiterates information that is later revealed with subtle dialogue. Any room for interpretation or ambiguity within the film's episodic timeline — regarding character history — is thrown out the window. The restructuring of events would have amplified the film's motif on the flexibility and durability of memory. The loose structure is especially head-scratching given the hefty amount of open subplots and additional character material left over from the film's blunt series of forgettable events. 

As the atmospheric climax settles with great inhales of contemplative melancholy, Shim wraps his film with an exhale of alluring ideas. Riceboy Sleeps is an engaging albeit messy film centered around the assimilation of a Korean-Canadian family. In the foundation of its half-baked structure, the design of the film's hyper-specific 1990's pastiche regulates Shim's casual fragments of narrative declination — with nostalgic flare and fundamental social-commentary.

Still Courtesy – Sphere Films International
Riceboy Sleeps screened at this year's  as part of the Platform competition.