Dancer and actress Choi Seung-yoon (34) has seized the opportunities that have come her way and made a name for herself with her debut feature film, ‘Riceboy Sleeps.’
Choi Seung-yoon played the role of mother So-young in ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ (directed by Anthony Shim). The semi-autobiographical film by Korean-Canadian director Anthony Shim tells the story of So-young and her son Dong-hyun, who were each other’s only family in the unfamiliar surroundings of Canada in the 1990s.
Choi Seung-yoon joined ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ after five Zoom auditions. Director Anthony Shim conducted video interviews after watching numerous audition tapes and cast the relatively inexperienced Choi Seung-yoon as So-young.
Choi Seung-yoon, who played the lead role in her first feature film, said, “Everything was new and fun.”
She added, “Casting director Su Kim, whom I met before, strongly recommended the audition. I approached it with the mindset of gaining experience without any greed for the lead role. The director was looking for So-young rather than a good actress. I’m not sure what I have in common with So-young, but people around me say we are similar. I’m not the type to beat around the bush; if there’s something, I’ll say it bluntly. Maybe that’s the similarity.”
“After the final audition, I was terrified. I wondered why they would cast me as the lead, and I thought about quitting because just passing the audition was a new experience for me. But when I actually went to Canada and met the people there, I gained courage. It was scary because I was alone, but when I saw the people I would be working with, I felt I could rely on them and do it together.”
During the 2021 pandemic, they filmed for two months in Canada, including the quarantine period, and then for 4-5 days in South Korea.
Choi Seung-yoon said, “It was harder during the pandemic. We only took off our masks briefly during the shooting and wore them continuously. The director helped us a lot. It was challenging as I didn’t have much acting experience, but the director created a comfortable environment for us to act. He allowed us to feel emotions naturally, and we could immerse ourselves in the film. The director understood the difficulties and discomforts actors may experience, and both Idan Hwang and Dohyun Hwang did a delicate job in their acting.”
Choi Seung-yoon also said, “So-young was a single mother who lived in an earlier era than me. So I looked into the 1970s music, movies, and the women’s status at that time. The director provided me with documentaries about immigrants, and I tried to understand and find So-young’s growing up years that were not shown in the film. Although I’ve never had a child, the director gave me time to get closer to Hwang Idan and Hwang Dohyun, who played my son, and it helped create a natural affection that was captured in the movie.”
‘Riceboy Sleeps’ has won 24 awards at various film festivals and critics’ associations around the world. Choi Seung-yoon received the Best Actress award at the Marrakech International Film Festival in Africa and has been nominated for a 2023 Canadian Screen Award in acting, which will be held on the 16th.
She said, “I couldn’t even imagine it. It’s still amazing. My father is very proud. At first, seeing myself on the big screen was very uncomfortable. I couldn’t focus because I saw myself rather than So-young. By the third time I watched it, I was able to separate myself from the character and follow the story. It still feels incredible when I look at the trophy.”
Choi Seung-yoon, who started ballet at the age of five and graduated from the Department of Dance at Ewha Womans University, is a talented choreographer who has been invited to the National Modern Dance Company, Berlin Tanzfabrik, European Lab Forum, Gwangju Biennale Swiss Pavilion, and more. She made her acting debut in the 2015 web drama “Two Women Season 1.”
Afterward, she was nominated for an Emmy in the Short-form Series category for “DXYZ: Choi Seung-yoon Actor Creation Project” and co-directed and starred in the fiction documentary “I by U by Everybody,” which dealt with the life of a dancer, receiving an invitation to the 24th Busan International Film Festival as an actor and director, gaining recognition for her talent.
She said, “I joined ‘Two Women’ because my friends were producing it and asked me if I could participate. I did it as a part-time job because I couldn’t make money from performing. It was fun because I was working with my friends. Then, as I got used to the camera, I started making my own work, and casting director Sue Kim saw that work and recommended me for the ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ audition. It’s been a chain of coincidences and opportunities that led me here.”
As a dancer, actor, and director, Choi Seung-yoon has shown a versatile range of talents, but she said she has no specific plans for the future.
“I have no concrete plans for directing right now. If there’s a story I want to tell someday, I might do it, but I don’t know for now. After ‘Riceboy Sleeps,’ I signed a management contract with an American company, and I’ve had quite a few audition offers, but I don’t know what will happen. I just hope I can fully enjoy and appreciate the things life offers me.”
“‘Riceboy Sleeps’ holds great personal significance for me. It was my first leading role in a feature film, and there’s a sense of achievement from trying out a new form of art. At first, I thought it was about personal growth and development, but movies are meant to be enjoyed with the audience. When the audience sheds tears and tells me they enjoyed the film, I feel that the challenge holds a greater meaning beyond personal achievement. In a way, acting is an extension and expansion of the dance I love. Our movie’s story can resonate even with those who aren’t immigrants. I’m excited and nervous to see how Korean audiences will react to our film. (laughs)”