A twenty-five-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.
‘Return to Seoul’ is an internationally produced drama about a Korean born French woman who returns to the country of her birth to seek out the parents who put her up for adoption many years earlier, directly confronting her past and how it contributed to making her the person she is today. It’s directed by Davy Chou and partially based on the real life experience of one of his friends who went through a similar journey to the one we see Freddie (Ji-Min Park) go through and I thought it was a terrific piece of cinema that captures the mixed emotions of what she goes through really well.
The movie begins with the 25 year old Freddie impulsively travelling to South Korea for the first time since she was adopted and moved to France, with plans to find her biological parents. She bonds with the receptionist at her hotel (who also speaks French), and through meeting some of her friends in a restaurant she learns about the Hammond Adoption Center, who may be able to help her. Freddie is an intriguing character and much of the best of ‘Return to Seoul’ comes in exploring the clashes between her French upbringing and the patriarchal Korean society, heightened as she ‘looks’ Korean so her behaviour is often odd and confusing to the Korean natives who she meets. We do also get a sense that she uses her ‘Frenchness’ as a shield for her own issues and emotions that she isn’t as on top of as she’d like to be, and I enjoyed seeing this narrative play out (encapsulated by a brilliant dance sequence – regularly a highlight when placed well in a movie!).
The real emotional punches come when Freddie reconnects with her father and learns about the life she could have had, with one particularly scene where her biological father takes her on a drive through the area she grew up feeling particularly poignant. The original English title for the movie was ‘All the People I’ll Never Be’ and it is particularly attuned to the feelings Freddie is having as she looks out the window to see a different life flash before her eyes, one she may have lived had her parents not put her up for adoption. The performances are excellent, particularly from Ji-Min Park who plays a lead character who you can’t help but be drawn into – there’s a shade of Julie from ‘The Worst Person in the World’ in how headstrong and determined she is, but with a vulnerable side that she isn’t fully willing to confront.
I thought ‘Return to Seoul’ was a brilliant movie – almost a reverse immigrant story in many respects, with a well written leading character and an emotional narrative that considers how a life could have turned out differently if other people had made different choices.
Directed By: Davy Chou
Starring: Ji-Min Park, Oh Kwang-rok, Cho-woo Choi, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Hur Ouk-Sook and Emeline Briffaud