March 6, 2023

CINEMA | 'Return to Seoul' Searching x TIFF 2022

"Sorrow is the way of Korean men."
Park Ji-min Davy Chou | Return to Seoul (Retour à Séoul) | TIFF 2022
Toronto International Film Festival
Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou explores the internal complexities of foreign adoption in the splendid French-Korean drama Return to Seoul (aka Retour à Séoul or All the People I'll Never Be). It captures a surprisingly joyous and recklessly transformative journey of a young woman's diasporic anguish.

Starring newcomer Park Ji-min in her film debut as Freddie (short for Frédérique), a French adoptee born in South Korea searching for her birth parents, the ambitious low-budget film encapsulates what it feels like to bridge two separate worlds of conflicting identities. There's so much stark yet sophisticated humour about Korean culture, drunken masculinity, and expat life not totally unlike Lost in Translation but from a displaced Asian point-of-view.

We follow several years in Freddie's life with hard-cut time jumps as she's constantly being drawn back to her birthplace after the initial visit as an adult at age twenty-five. After that first trip, she becomes disaffected and somewhat of a shapeshifter drifting through different lives, careers, and social situations.

Chou and Park make Return to Seoul such a wondrously dizzying experience of removed perspective and displacement. It's a cinematic identity crisis born of parental abandonment and cultural confusion. How it captures the City of Seoul as a trippy fever dream of dark alleys, bright lights, and overstimulated exhaustion puts you into Freddie's conflicted mindset of accrued emotional damage.

Return to Seoul premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Discovery program. It also screens at the VIFF Centre.

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