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“Return to Seoul”: An enigmatic exploration of identity and isolation

“Return to Seoul”: An enigmatic exploration of identity and isolation

Questions about loss, longing and lineage abound in Davy Chou’s seductive sophomore feature without ever being satisfyingly addressed, let alone resolved, by this enigmatic exploration of insecure identity. The one driving forward the picaresque plot is that of South Korean born French woman Freddie (an amazing Park Ji-min) who was adopted as a baby seemingly caring Parisian parents. The latter, however, are as distant from the paradoxical protagonist as the romantic new friend Tena (Guka Han) she makes on her first of three trips to the titular metropole. Or the bland boyfriend (Yoann Zimmer) she takes on her second trip. 

Friends and flings are discarded and replaced as soon as they threaten to break trough Freddie’s armour of casual carelessness, sometimes by substitutes so strikingly similar one wonders if they are chosen after some prototype in her past. But the director writer never tells what happened before or during the years between his quasi alter-ego’s enigmatic episodes in the South Korean capital. It’s a toxic place for her, Freddie says, yet it seems exactly this adverse effect appealing to her (self)destructive impulses. Each return to her birth country’s enticingly atmospheric ambiance she has killed off a former version of herself.

Each new incarnation feels as false to the magnetic main character as her needy biological father’s (Oh Kwang-rok) pleas for attention. As in his remarkable documentary debut Golden Slumbers about the Khmer Rouge’s near-annihilation of Cambodian cinemas, Chou suggests that the forceful separation from one’s cultural heritage causes a pain one can neither numb nor heal. A deep desire for connection haunts Freddie like the melancholic melodies in a mother’s tongue she doesn’t speak. The yearning music works both as metaphor for unconscious memories and marker on this fascinating if fragmentary filmic journey honest enough to forfeit any sense of closure.

  • OT: Return to Seoul
  • Director: Davy Chou
  • Screenplay: Davy Chou
  • Country: Cambodia, France, Belgium, Germany 
  • Year: 2022
  • Running Time: 119 min. 
  • Cast: Ji-Min Park, Oh Gwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Hur Ouk-Sook, Son Seung-Beom, Dong Seok Kim, Emeline Briffaud, Lim Cheol-Hyun, Régine Vial, Cho-woo Choi
  • Release date: 26.01.2023
  • Image © Rapid Eye Movies