Putting the spotlight on the lesser known case of children born in South Korea but who were adopted by French parents when their own were unable to look after them, Return to Seoul follows Frédérique (Park Ji-min) as she travels back to the country of her birth to learn more about her origins and to try to find her biological parents.Return to Seoul puts a twist in the usual clash of cultures trope as the protagonist is discovering a totally different to the one she grew up in yet one that is actually where is from, resulting in some conflicting emotions. The need to understands where is from collides with a certain lack of maturity and inability to adapt and fully understand these foreign customs.
Davy Chou, himself part of this generation of South Korean children adopted in France, tells a story that is obviously dear to his heart and patiently charts that odyssey of self-discovery with several scenes over drinks that echoes the tropes of his compatriot Hong Sang-soo.
Frédérique is something of an abrasive personality, making a point of disrespecting some new South Korean friends she just met by blatantly refusing to follow the local customs and the fact that her character spends a lot of the running time acting like a spoiled brat is a weakness of the script as while we are meant to understand the reasons for her resistance and ambivalent behaviour, she is an unlikeable character for far too long and one that is not particularly interesting until much later in the film.
This is no fault of the actress Park Ji-min who is outstanding, particularly in the third act but this lack of balance in characterisation means the audience's involvement is minimal for most of it. A certain artificiality both to the direction and script do not help.
There is an interesting observation of self-discovery and roots when one feel that they do not belong to anywhere and some genuinely moving scenes later on but it is too little too soon to make Return to Seoul truly engaging.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆
Official Selection, In Competition
Return to Seoul. South Korea/France 2022. Directed by Davy Chou. Starring Park Ji-min...
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