I have no expertise on this subject (other than talking with people who have experienced this), but when people have lived a life separate from their birth parents (either through adoption or absent parents), there’s often a desire to search out your roots and learn a little bit about them. Even though your biological parents may be alien to you, you could still be curious about their history and wish to learn more about them. Not only does this occasionally offer closure, but it also enables you to get in touch with a side of yourself that you weren’t even aware existed. Return to Seoul, directed by Davy Chou, is Cambodia’s entry for this year’s Oscars, and it attempts to approach this topic in an engaging and interesting manner.
Frédérique “Freddie” Benoît (Ji-Min Park) is a French adoptee who is originally from South Korea. But, her birth parents believed it would be best if she lived in another nation away from a potentially difficult existence owing to the ongoing conflict between North Korea and South Korea. She is adopted and sent to live in France at an early age through an international adoption agency. Freddie has developed into a free spirit who loves to live life to the fullest. But then she makes the sudden decision to fly to South Korea. She is initially astonished that she made such a significant decision, but she decides that now is the time to look for her birth parents.
Freddie befriends Tena (Guka Han), a staff member at the South Korean hotel where she is staying and who is bilingual in French and Korean, Freddie contacts the original adoption agency in an effort to track down her birth parents. There is some difficulty when she is able to contact her biological father (Oh Kwang-rok). Although he has since had other children, her father still feels terrible about having given up Freddie for adoption. Freddie is understandably full of anger and not yet ready to establish a relationship with her biological father. Her standoffish nature and desire to drink too much alienates Freddie from Tena as well. It seems that Freddie needs to do some soul-searching about her path in life in addition to exploring her biological parents.
One plot point that runs throughout Return to Seoul is Freddie’s relationship with her biological mother (Cho-woo Choi), which is not as easygoing as with her father. which is more difficult than her relationship with her father. For a long time, Freddie finds it difficult to even get in touch with her, which only exacerbates his emotional problems. Even a parent you don’t even know rejecting you might be a sobering experience.
Return to Seoul goes through various time jumps throughout the film as we meet up with Freddie at several periods in her life. As she continues, she occasionally regresses and other times grows and develops personally. And that is what Return to Seoul is truly all about. As much as it tries to be about a young woman meeting her and connecting with her biological parents for the first time, it’s really more about her growth as a person as she looks for a sense of peace. Although there are ups and downs in her connection with her South Korean family, the audience is nevertheless left with somewhat of a pleasant ending. Although Return to Seoul doesn’t provide the audience with all the solutions, we still get to witness Freddie’s progress and improvement as a person.
Ji-Min Park truly radiates throughout the movie as Freddie. This is Ji-Min Park’s debut acting role, which is a great surprise as her performance is dynamic. We can anticipate hearing a lot more from her in the future because she is such a natural in Return to Seoul. Her fantastic performance holds the movie together. A captivating story is being told masterfully by director Davy Chou. The South Korean scenery, which includes both urban and rural areas, is used and filmed in a breathtakingly beautiful way. Return to Seoul, directed by Cambodian-French director Chou, feels very personal for the director and almost somewhat autobiographical. However, the use of time jumps, however, deprives the viewer of several possibly crucial aspects of Freddie’s life that are skipped over or explained away in under 20 seconds. Showing that portion alongside the other portions may have been beneficial for the audience. Return to Seoul, however, is a superb piece of art that addresses the human condition and how individuals who are torn between two cultures struggle to feel as authentic as they can be.
Return to Seoul is currently in select theaters.