“I could cut you out of my life with a snap of my fingers.”


At the centre of Return to Seoul is a fascinatingly unlikeable character for whom we develop sympathy and understanding, crafted by French writer-director Davy Chou and wonderfully portrayed by Park Ji-min. The adopted Freddie has travelled from France to South Korea on a whim, and it is only whilst in Seoul that she decides to try contacting her biological parents. This is in some ways an inversion of Past Lives, as Freddie has no connection to the country at all, save for a single photograph. Chou revels in cultural blending — an early opening scene mixing French, Korean and English as Freddie draws together tables of diners — as well as the inevitable clashes. Freddie is impulsive, with a lack of inhibition that swiftly becomes abrasive in a culture like Korea’s, but Chou explores how this can be emergent behaviour for foreign adoptees in search of their identity and plagued by a sense of abandonment. By contrast, Freddie becomes withdrawn in the presence of her family, distanced by language and reliant on a friend who reinterprets her words to be more socially palatable. Meanwhile, Korean expressions of sorrow are unfamiliar and suffocating to Freddie, who pushes away as a result. Halfway through the film it emerges that this first trip is only part of the story, the second half featuring a number of time jumps that allows Return to Seoul to provide a broader and more meaningful examination of Freddie’s journey of self-discovery. The script remains impressively true to Freddie’s identity, not moulding her magically to settle down, but by seeing her develop the audience comes to understand her behaviours and to appreciate the pain which drives them.