Frederique ‘Freddie’ Benoît (Park Ji-Min), the 25-year-old protagonist of Davy Chou’s Return to Seoul, is in a car with her Father (Oh Kwang-rok) and Tena, a friend who she’s living with. On their way to the place where he grows up, he asks her a question that Tena answers. The rest of the ride turns into a conversation between her father and Tena, leaving her to herself and to her feelings. Viewers then see the rest of Freddie’s story as one of disjointed transformation. Freddie discovers that her birth name is Yoon-hee, a name that she, a French citizen, occasionally uses.
We spend a lot of time with Freddie during her first return to Seoul as a 25 year old, before the pandemic started. An adoptee, we see her try to reconnect with her biological country and family with various results. We also see her return twice to a ‘toxic’ city that still attracts her in mysterious ways. A lot of Return to Seoul is about the way Freddie presents herself to the titular city and a country that feels alien. But the country itself, pardon the cliché, is its own character, a complex one, weaving in and out of its own moods. There’s a certain atmosphere that comes within a film belonging to the ‘Asian youthful vibe’ cinema.
There’s a lot of that ‘vibe’ here, which clicks with a protagonist who experiences waves of angst and depression. Thankfully, the film doesn’t totally rely on that and pulls out that atmosphere at the right times. Tena is the character who exists to pull Freddie and the film out of their funks, or tries to anyway. What also helps with these complex effects is Freddie and the film leaving Seoul. Those other locations, though, have their own emotional baggage that the film competently expresses. There are fifteen minutes in Return to Seoul where Freddie has drama with the new friends she picked up at Seoul.
However, a few critics did write about its delightful unpredictability. And that quality is one of the film’s biggest assets, as it twists and turns without the unnecessary adrenaline overload. The film’s third act captures Freddie’s second and third return to Seoul. She makes one of those journeys as part of an unconventional and spoiler-y job. The film’s dynamics change because of this new job, giving it a macabre sense of humour. But of course, even if Freddie is this chameleonlike figure, the film doesn’t treat her differently because of this job. She’s a woman changing, the only constant in her life is her perpetual alienation.
Return to Seoul plays on select Canadian theatres.
- Release Date: 3/3/2023