Return to Seoul (2022)

A girl's accidental journey to South Korea resulting in search for her biological parents

8/14/20234 min read

Ji-Min Park and Guka Han in 'Return to Seoul'
Ji-Min Park and Guka Han in 'Return to Seoul'

French, Korean, English,

119 minutes, 2022

Director: Davy Chou

Cast: Ji-Min Park, Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer

Awards: Nominee, Un Certain Regard Award, Cannes Film Festival, 2022; Winner Golden Athena (Best Picture), Athens International Film Festival 2022; Winner Special Jury Prize, Tokyo FILMeX, 2022, Winner Best Director and Best New Performance, Asia Screen Awards, 2022

Frederique Benoit (Ji-Min Park), nicknamed Freddie, is a twenty five year old French resident originally from South Korea. She was adopted by French Parents years ago. She is on a solo trip and now she has arrived in Seoul ‘accidently’ as her flight to Japan was cancelled. She had 14 days holiday so she chose to come to South Korea. She befriends hotel desk clerk Tena (Guka Han) who incidentally can speak French because her mother is a French teacher. Freddie cannot speak Korean so Tena now becomes her de facto translator. At a restaurant, she assembles few youngsters of her age who are already there and they share drinks. At the discussion she learns that Hammond is the agency responsible for such adoptions. Even though she says she is not here to trace her biological parents, next day she goes there.

At Hammonds, she gives an old photograph with some number written behind it. On retrieving her file, she is told that the agency is allowed to send a telegram only thrice in an year by law. If the parent doesn’t respond then they close the case. The agency sends telegram and her father responds but mother doesn’t. Despite not feeling up to it, she decides to travel to Gunsan with Tena where her father works. His entire family receives Freddie and Tena warmly. He has two daughters and a wife and they all, along with his sister who can speak broken English, meet Freddie. The father (Oh Kwang-rok) is apologetic and withdrawn at their first meeting but manages to convey that he has regretted his decision of giving her till this date. She stays there for three days and then leaves back for Seoul. Freddie’s father sends her messages, which irks Freddie. At a bar in Seoul, when she, Tena and a friend from earlier encounter are having drinks together, the friend asks her to stay with him in Korea and he likes her. She doesn’t respond well and goes and gets friendly with DJ. As she returns back to her guest house with the DJ, she is encountered by her father who is waiting there. He scolds her for not responding to his messages and getting friendly with anybody and everybody. She screams at him and asks him to leave her alone.

Two years later, Freddie is still in Seoul and hooks up a tinder date with Andre, a French arms dealer. They date and she goes back to her dwelling where a surprise birthday party is thrown for her. She doesn’t like her birthdays being celebrated but on his friend’s request she agrees. At the party Freddie reveals to her co-worker that her mother has responded to Hammond’s telegrams but she is not interested in meeting Freddie.

Five years later, Freddie is seen working with Andre, the French arms dealer and is in Seoul for a business meeting with her French boyfriend, Maxime (Yoann Zimmer). She meets her father and aunt with him for lunch. She tells them that she doesn’t eat meat and has stopped drinking. The father seems happy and plays a tune he has composed on Piano which he started recently. On asking why she is working with arms dealer, Maxime says that she is helping South Korea defend itself From North Korea. While returning, Freddie, seems upset with him for this and dumps him. In the morning, she receives a message from Hammond, the adoption agency, that her mother is ready to meet her. They meet at Hammond’s office and Freddie and her biological mother have an emotional reunion. Her mother gives her email Id written on a piece of paper to be in touch and they depart.

One year later, Freddie is travelling alone to some country and sends her mother an email on her birthday but it is not delivered as the Id is inactive. In the hotel lobby, as she is waiting for room to get ready, she notices a piano and sits and attempts to play a tune reading from the sheet kept on piano.

The plot of the film is genuinely warm but at times drags unnecessarily. Frankly, the adopted 'child and father meet' as well as the girl and biological mother meet doesn’t move you, despite the build-up created. Freddie’s cast too is not very impressive though her father impresses. Overall a passable film.

About the director, Davy Chou

Born in August 1983 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, a commune in the south western suburbs of France, Davy Chou is regarded as Franco-Cambodian filmmaker since he works extensively in Combodia. In 2009, to encourage filmmaking in Cambodia, he conducted film workshops with 60 students from 6 Cambodian universities which resulted in forming a film oriented initiative called ‘Kon Khmer, Koun Khmer (translated as ‘Khmer Films Khmer Generations’). This initiative made a suspense film called ‘Twin Diamonds’ which was produced by Davy and directed by the students.

Later in 2010-2011, Davy moved to Pnom Penh to research on Cambodian films which were made in 1950s and 1960s. He spoke to several people like directors, actors, spectators, etc. connected to films during those days and learned that around 400 films were made during those years but got lost or were destroyed during Khmer rouge regime. All that research culminated in a 100 minute documentary titled ‘Golden Slumbers’ was released in France and many other countries in 2012. This documentary explored Cambodia’s film history before Khmer rouge era and showcased struggle of Cambodian filmmakers as they faced political upheaval and general neglect of the craft and the associated professionals. It was shown in many festivals including the prestigious Berlinale and Busan Film Festival.

He made his first feature in 2016 titled ‘Diamond Island’. The film was a collaboration between five countries –Cambodia, France, Germany, Qatar, and Thailand, and casted mainly fresh actors. His present film ‘Return To Seoul’ is loosely based on a girl who accompanied Davy from France during the shooting of his documentary but had biological parents in South Korea. The girl met her father and grandmother for the first time during that time. This subject gave him the idea for the film.