A Korean adopted by a French couple when she was a baby returns to Korea for the first time as a French woman in Davy Chou’s intimate if chastening third feature, backed by an excellent performance from Park Ji-min in her acting debut.
Dir. Davy Chou
2022 | Cambodia/South Korea/France | 119 min | 1.85:1 | English, French & Korean
NC16 (passed clean) for brief drug use, nudity and language
Cast: Park Ji-min, Oh Gwang-rok, Guka Han
Plot: A 25-year-old French woman returns to Korea, the country she was born in before being adopted by a French couple, for the very first time. She decides to track down her biological parents, but her journey takes a surprising turn.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2 (SG: Anticipate Pictures)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Identity Crisis; Cultural Differences
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector Golden Mile
From the French-Cambodian director of Golden Slumbers (2011) and Diamond Island (2016), Return to Seoul sees Davy Chou explore the theme of identity crisis as the film charts the journey of Freddie who makes a visit to Korea for the first time.
This is no ordinary visit, but neither is it a homecoming for the 25-year-old Korean with a French passport. Given away by her biological parents to a French couple who adopted her, Freddie grew up entirely in a different world.
Speaking no Korean and bereft of any other markers of her Korean identity, Freddie identifies solely as French. Chou’s work follows her ‘return’ and quest to find her biological parents with the help of an adoption agency.
Return to Seoul, however, eschews the conventions of a reunion-type melodrama; instead, it leads us to places, both physical and psychological, that might be described as unexpectedly wild, intimate and sometimes chastening for the protagonist. Perhaps it is not so much about a return to ‘home’ as it is a return to ‘self’.
“You’re a sad person.”
Embodied by an excellent performance from Park Ji-min, who makes her acting debut here, Freddie must patiently navigate new emotions of confusion, disorientation and hesitancy as she tries to find her true self. It’s not easy of course—she’s a world citizen with a lost soul.
Chou’s filmmaking style here is rather eclectic, opting for a contrast between quietude (best exemplified by its introspective epilogue) and liveliness (there’s an oblique dance floor routine to look out for). Both coincidentally revolve around the explorative qualities of music, which Freddie alludes to early on in the film.
Although it does feel its length, Return to Seoul should intrigue cinephiles who want a dose of bittersweet adventurousness in an otherwise familiar dramatic construct.