sat 13/07/2024

Return to Seoul review - lost in translation | reviews, news & interviews

Return to Seoul review - lost in translation

Return to Seoul review - lost in translation

A ferocious Frenchwoman explores her alien birth-country, in an adventure of identity

Identity crisis: Freddie (Park-Ji Min) gets lost

Freddie (Park Ji-min) is a social hand grenade, flinging herself into situations to see where the splinters fall. Born in Korea but adopted and raised by French parents, a seemingly impulsive, brief detour to Seoul sees her seek out her birth-parents.

Her birth-mum ignores her, and her birth-dad (Oh Kwang-rok, pictured below) proves a gauche, maudlin drunk. In a film of mistranslations, anger and rejection fall into the linguistic chasm between French-speaking Freddie and her new family. Her birth-aunt (Kim Sun-young) is the embarrassed go-between, improvising polite Korean frames around Freddie’s cutting words and Dad’s pleading. Birth-dad and daughter share mutual need and thorny attraction, based on loss and destabilised identities. Nurtured as French, Freddie’s suspicion of a Korean nature nags; her quest for completion is rocky and endless.Oh Kwang-rok in Return to SeoulWriter-director Danny Chou revisits Freddie over eight years. The long gaps show life’s unpredictable, pinballing nature, as her supposedly chance trip to Seoul triggers transforming life-choices. She is a 25-year-old student when she arrives and a 33-year-old arms dealer, selling worse than hand grenades, on her last trip, the outre job bizarrely indicating her indifference to limits, as she sets her alternately furious or ferociously amused face against the world. She is challenging and indomitable, more concerned with provoking than typically Korean or female niceties. Charismatically seizing and smashing every moment, she forces new Korean friends and strangers together at a bar, and leaps on a man’s back at a club, their dance a half-fight she wins. Waking up next to a guy and unsure if they’ve had sex, she has another go to make sure.

Chou is Cambodian-French, and his film shares Freddie’s French perspective and growing Korean intimacy. Her two-shot dialogue with a French arms dealer date is tres Gallic in its abstract, epigrammatic jousting, jolting Return to Seoul out of its absorbing flow. Chou and director of photography Thomas Favel meanwhile set her down in a Korea of contrasts: a room of neon gold in a night-dark apartment, a club’s intoxicating heat and cool, blue countryside. Submerging into the city’s steamy underground, she surfaces as a calm professional.Park Ji-min in Return to SeoulSuch headstrong progress is startling and almost exemplary, a self-defined, fearless way of being female. Korean men are contrastingly, weepily melodramatic and hard to shake. Freddie relies on mesmerised female friends, dabbles in lesbian attraction and has functional male relationships, coolly telling one: “I could wipe you from my life with a snap of my fingers.” Music is a sensual layer and mode of expression, as she gets a hipster haunt’s DJ to switch from atmospheric Korean noir-pop to head-cleansing techno, then goes home with the DJ, having alienated everyone else.

We last see Freddie in the guise of a student backpacker in a sort of solitary pilgrimage. A late twist in her adoptees’s search touches till now suppressed, tearful vulnerability, completing her in a way. What she wants stays out of reach, but the search is its own progress - an odyssey of opening up.

Nurtured as French, Freddie’s suspicion of a Korean nature nags

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters