Return to Seoul

An adoption story that wins you over.

“Return to Seoul” is a different Korean film. It regards a young French-Korean woman named Freddie, who speaks French and a little English and not Korean, because she was put up for adoption, and has lived in France for her whole life. When she returns to Seoul, South Korea, she has a friend, who speaks French and becomes her interpreter through her country’s native language.

Freddie is memorably and wonderfully portrayed by newcomer Ji-Min Park. I have no info to provide for you-at least not now-but whenever she is, she has a naturalism of independence and emotions, both of which keep us involved. She’s a heroine in an adoption story, which never settles for the most obvious approaches, and has us wondering why she ended up in France, and what life has to offer her.

The reason she comes back to her home country is to find her biological parents. She only has a photo with a number on it to back her up at the adoption agency. And so far, the father (Oh Kwang-rok) agrees to be reunited with her.

He lives in Gunsan, and invites her to visit. He and his side of the family greet her with open arms, and explain that she was put up for adoption, in hopes of a better life in France. Things in South Korea weren’t as easy back then as they are today, because it was under the Khmer Rouge, and they wanted her to have an education and a life without misery. And her family couldn’t feel more remorseful about giving her up. But how could Freddie forgive her father? It’s unimaginable for those who weren’t put up for adoption.

What about the mom? She doesn’t want to see her daughter. Why? I can’t say for certain. So, in the meantime, during a 7-year course, she takes up a job in international counseling, has some drinks with the French arms dealer Andre (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), and is in a relationship with the supportive Frenchman Maxime (Yoann Zimmer).

One of the ways Freddie eases her emotions is when she goes out partying. Some of that goes on a little long, but there are many scenes that keep you involved and guessing at what her journey will unfold. Some questions are answered, others are left untouched. Either way, she keeps her moods in check, kudos to his winning newcomer.

Writer Davy Chou (“Diamond Island”) never settles for anything tedious or routine to cater to American audiences. He provides unpredictable and patient elements that don’t make things light and simple. This reunion between the adoptee and her parents could take years to process or even meet, and that’s why we have her career and relationships to hold her at bay until she can find herself again.

I’ve read Chou used this movie as inspiration for how his friend (and both of them are French) was meeting her adoptive parents, while they were working on his film “Golden Slumbers.” She shared the same challenges as Freddie did, and he was so moved by their reunion, that he wanted to turn this story into a feature film. He also saw something in the actress through conversations, which, quoted, “challenged some of his notions as a male director and helped him understand how a young French woman might respond to aspects of Korea’s highly patriarchal society.” Unquote.

Movies can be a reflection on life and its highs and lows. “Return to Seoul” is a somber, radiant piece of filmmaking, which represents that notion in its own sentimental ways.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: Drama, Foreign

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