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[New on the Scene] For Choi Seung-yoon, ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ is about strength of mothers

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 17, 2023 - 17:14

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Choi Seung-yoon from “Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema) Choi Seung-yoon from “Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema)

There are many stories and films that depict the lives of immigrants, struggling to adapt to family life in a new country with an uncooperative child.

Canadian actor and filmmaker Anthony Shim’s “Riceboy Sleeps” (2022) is about So-young, a single mother from Korea who settles in the suburbs of Canada in the 1990s with her son, Dong-hyun.

Soon after the film's March 17 release in Canada, it swept the global film awards, with the actors and director being invited to numerous film festivals. So far, the film has won 27 awards.

Choi Seung-yoon, who debuted as So-young in “Riceboy Sleeps,” says the film is about mothers. She won the award for best actor at the 19th Marrakech International Film Festival in December.

“At first, many compared our film to ‘Minari.’ But those who have watched our movie know that they are two different movies. Our film is more about finding our roots and actually coming back to Korea to do that. It is also a story about a mother,” said Choi in an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald on April 6.

“We often lock ourselves into the stereotype that films about Korean immigrants share similar plot lines. But I want to ask the audience not to categorize our film into a certain genre or story and rather pay attention to what the mother in the film is trying to say,” said Choi.

What is so appealing about this calm film about a single South Korean mother?

Choi simply answered, smiling, “There is no one without a mother.”

“Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema) “Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema)

In “Riceboy Sleeps,” Choi plays So-young, a single mother raising her teenage son Dong-hyun in Canada in the 1990s. Director Shim, who was born in Seoul and emigrated to Vancouver with his family in the early 1990s, describes the film as a self-portrait. In the majority of scenes, Choi speaks in English.

Having lived in Berlin to study ballet, Choi said her “survival English” was useful while auditioning for “Riceboy Sleeps” because a fluent English speaker was not what the director wanted.

“I went through auditions and interviews via Zoom," Choi said, adding that the whole process made her "nervous" and that she "didn't expect to get the role," but thought "it would be a good experience." Having auditioned so many fluent English speaking Asian actors, Shim told Choi that he had conviction in her from the start.

For Choi, “Riceboy Sleeps” opened up her eyes to new definitions of mother and family.

“So-young is an independent woman. She is relentless and works hard to make a living. But what I liked the most about her is that she never indulges in self-pity. Life can hand anyone misfortune. But So-young decides to not grieve over her misfortune. Instead, she makes decisions by herself. I love how brave and energetic she is,” Choi said, adding that her mother and her grandmother inspired her performance of So-young.

There was not a moment when she did not enjoy filming the movie with Shim, Choi said.

“I'd be happy to (work with director Shim again) if I were asked,” said Choi, who has signed up with a management agency in the US after the release of “Riceboy Sleeps.”

Choi noted that she still talks with director Shim, who also stars in the film as Simon, So-young’s boyfriend, and Ethan Hwang, who plays her son Dong-hyun, on Kakao.

"I remember director Shim saying that the film is completed in three stages. The first is when the film is written as a script. The second is when the film is being filmed. The third is when the film is watched with the audience,” said Choi, thanking the director.

“Riceboy Sleeps” opens in local theaters on Wednesday.

“Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema) “Riceboy Sleeps” (Pancinema)

The following article is the third in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.