I love dramas that deal with intense subjects. In this film, the main character Freddie was adopted by a French family and is now trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into her world. After watching the movie, I can tell you it is an emotional rollercoaster as it jumps through time and deals with complex emotions, adoption trauma, and abandonment issues. While it is slow at times, the excellent performances drive this character-driven film, and the emotions it portrays are authentic and heartbreaking.

Return to Seoul is a drama film written and directed by Davy Chou. The film revolves around Freddie (Ji-Min Park), a 25-year-old French adoptee who impulsively travels to South Korea for the first time. She starts looking for her biological family, which leads her life in new and unexpected ways as others assist her, including a hotel worker Tena (Guka Han), and the adoption center.

One of the best parts of the film is the sense of culture and authenticity of the writing. The film highlights the language and culture of South Korea. Part of the reason I think it is so well executed is it focuses on the characters, and it allows those voices to drive the story, including the emotions of what it is like to be adopted. And not just adopted, but adopted by a family that doesn’t speak your language, has nothing to do with the culture you grew up in. In the film, Freddie comes to Seoul but doesn’t even speak the language. She has to have others translate for her. This is impactful because you can see how disconnected she feels and how unready she is to connect with her birth family, even though she feels the pain of not knowing them and not knowing if they want to meet with her.

The film resonates so profoundly because it shows how Freddie’s life changes over the course of time. It demonstrates, by jumps in time, how much the search for her birth family impacts her, both positively and negatively. Over time she learns to accept that she can’t change what happened but has to search for meaning and acceptance within herself. And what the film really drives home is that even in moments when she feels like she has found peace, she still backtracks and struggles with the pain she has over the adoption and feeling abandoned.

Since this is a very character-driven film, the performances are even more critical to the success of the film. Ji-Min Park is fantastic as Freddie; her performance is layered with emotion and nuanced. She is able to give us a portrayal that shows both Freddie’s pain but also her disconnection and her caring. This is a character that is angry and in pain, and Ji-Min Park demonstrates that complexity with every gesture and glance. The supporting cast is equally phenomenal. Guka Han is soulful as Tena as she tries to help her friend with her quest for family. Oh Kwang-rok as her biological father, gives a complex and beautiful performance of a man in pain over his decisions. Of course, Ji-Min Park is the focus, but each of the supporting cast helps to spotlight the beauty of the story.

One of the few impacts of the narrative is the slowness of the movie and the change in time periods. While that can be disruptive, the time shifts help illustrate how Freddie has changed over time and how her search has impacted her and her choices. It also shows where she is in processing her emotions. It is a beautiful progression to the story, and even though it is slow at times, it is emotionally rich and complex. It is a very layered film.

If you don’t mind subtitles and love emotional stories, I really recommend Return to Seoul. The performances are fantastic and layered with emotion. The story is complex and authentic. The writing is true to heartbreaking truths that surround children adopted from Korea, and it tells a story of trauma that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Rating: 4.5 telegrams out of 5.

Official Website: Return to Seoul | Sony Pictures Classics
Facebook: @ReturntoSeoul
Hashtag: #ReturntoSeoul

 

Return to Seoul

Genre: Drama

After an impulsive travel decision to visit friends, Freddie, 25, returns to South Korea for the first time, where she was born before being adopted and raised in France. Freddie suddenly finds herself embarking on an unexpected journey in a country she knows so little about, taking her life in new and unexpected directions.
RETURN TO SEOUL opens exclusively in select Phoenix theaters on February 24, 2023.


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