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An uneven but often quietly touching first hour makes you sit up and notice the relatable story of this Canadian-Korean film, which makes it such a shame that the final act feels emotionally rushed.

A critical darling in its native Canada, Riceboy Sleeps recounts how a widowed Korean mother and her young son try to make a life for themselves in nineties North America, overcoming not just racism but other, even more threatening obstacles.

The picture broadly breaks down in three disctinct parts. The first one touchingly sets the scene for the casual racism that permeates throughout the film and efficiently establishes the fractured yet close bond between mother and pre-teen son.

The second part of Riceboy Sleeps jumps ahead 9 years to a point where one tragic moment is on the verge of altering the Korean family's life. Here the movie shines the brightest, mostly due to the exquisite performances of Choi Seung-yoon and Ethan Hwang, who are as believable and relatable as an on-screen mother-son combo as any actors you'll see all year long.

Helped by quiet, observant direction and a dreamy, grainy cinematography these two parts are effortlessly convincing, even if the narrarive drags in spots and the pacing is uneven at times. If only they had led into a third act that knocks you out emotionally.

Alas, Riceboy Sleeps' final half hour is more about tying up loose ends than it is about completing the journeys of mother and son. Thus a film that shows much promise peters out just where it matters most.

release: 2022

director: Anthony Shim

starring: Choi Seung-yoon, Ethan Hwang, Dohyun Noel Hwang, Anthony Shim


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