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CANNES 2022 Un Certain Regard

Review: Return to Seoul

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- CANNES 2022: Davy Chou confirms his talent with a highly effective second fiction feature about a turbulent and touching initiatory journey tracing back an adoption

Review: Return to Seoul
Ji-Min Park in Return to Seoul

"You do realise that I could erase you from my life at the drop of a hat?" The emotions felt by adopted children are clearly more complicated than usual; a tortured mix of overwhelming and/or repressed desire to know who one’s biological parents are, hemmed in by barriers built up both internally and externally in order to hold back emotions whose destabilising power might just prove too much. But once the decision has been made to find your parents, regardless of the progress and fears which ensue, you find yourself stepping into a role which you hadn’t prepared for, trying to work out what’s involved at a glance and how to decipher signals and risks. This is the subject-matter broached with great zeal and know-how by French-Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou in Return to Seoul [+see also:
interview: Davy Chou
film profile
]
, a movie presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival. It’s a well-rounded film which sees the director continuing his ascent in the world of fiction which first began in 2016, here on the Croisette, via the highly acclaimed Diamond Island [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, screened in Critics’ Week.

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"Are you going to try to find your parents? – No". With her Korean appearance, French actress Frédérique Benoît, whose character is on holiday "in the Land of the Morning Calm" for two weeks (as a result of her flights to Japan being cancelled), intrigues the local youngsters whom she seems to naturally hit it off with on account of her fearless nature but also her ability to be abrupt where required, which stands out a mile in the markedly diplomatic local culture. When she finds out about the Hammond Centre, the biggest adoption facility in Korea, Freddie (Ji-Min Park) - who is 25 years old and whose only memento of her homeland is a photo (which she thinks is of her mother) - doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into (she doesn’t speak Korean either), but she gets the ball rolling and rapidly discovers which towns her biological father (Kwang-Rok Oh) and mother live in. The former responds to the telegram sent by the centre and invites his daughter to spend the weekend with him and his family. It marks the beginning of a turbulent eight-year journey…

A beautiful portrait of a young woman torn between violently contradictory emotions and, subconsciously, between two countries, Return to Seoul methodically ploughs its path (across four time-periods), a passageway which slowly leads us through Freddie’s states of mind, between escapism through partying or meaningless flings and a latent sadness which eats away at her and eventually leads her to accept a father whose guilt is all-pervasive ("every time he drinks, he cries and talks about you") and a mother who’s nigh-on inaccessible. It’s a perfectly packaged initiatory journey offered up by the gifted Davy Chou, who manages contained, simmering emotions with expert ease, before lightening the mood with some pretty funny scenes caused by cultural clashes and sequences where the energy of youth can be felt full pelt. It’s a seductive blend, which has already won over Sony Pictures Classics (for North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand) and MUBI (for the UK, Italy, Ireland, India, Turkey and Southeast Asia).

Return to Seoul is produced by Aurora Films, co-produced by Vandertastic Films and Frakas Productions, and sold worldwide by mk2 films.

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(Translated from French)

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