Review: Davy Chou’s exuberant ‘Return to Seoul’ ponders a young woman’s constant evolution

On one of the first nights of her seemingly impromptu trip to Seoul, Freddie (Park Ji-Min), a magnetic 25-year-old adoptee born in South Korea but raised in France, explains the concept of sight reading to a group of new acquaintances over copious bottles of soju.

To play a score for the first time, musicians — which Freddie once was — must quickly gauge its degree of difficulty, the danger if you will, and then dive in fearlessly. That too is how Freddie chooses to walk the Earth, plunging into the unknown head on and picking up the shattered pieces later. Shape-shifting through the years, she rolls with the tide of change.

For your safety

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials.

The impulsive young woman commands French Cambodian writer-director Davy Chou’s “Return to Seoul.” Told with great stylistic exuberance, the electric and segmented drama brilliantly muses on the impermanence of everything we know — about ourselves, about others and the world — and points to transformation as the only inevitable constant.

“There are signs all over that you don’t see, but you can learn to read them and catch them when they appear,” Freddie tells her drunken audience before orchestrating conversations between strangers. Her instructions also provide guidance for us to engage with the story.

A staggering masterwork that reveals itself unhurriedly, one permutation at a time, Chou’s third feature is perhaps the only film this year in which every single scene and every line of dialogue within them feel absolutely indispensable. The richness in every detail, and their unexpected ramifications over time, make for a one-of-a-kind character study.

review: davy chou’s exuberant ‘return to seoul’ ponders a young woman’s constant evolution
Freddie (Park Ji-Min, left) visits with friends in the movie “Return to Seoul.”(Thomas Favel / Aurora Films / Sony Pictures Classics)

Encouraged by Tena (Guka Han), her new friend and guesthouse attendant, Freddie visits the Hammond Adoption Center to inquire about her biological parents. A tattered photo of herself as an infant in the arms of a woman she believes to be her birth mother opens the door to a possible meeting. But first, her Korean father (Oh Kwang-rok) comes forward.

In her initial encounter with her paternal blood family, the swirl of language barriers, culture clashes and a mutual, if unspoken, eagerness for connection knocks the nonchalant coolness out of Freddie. From their time together, she discovers the name they gave her, Yeon-Hee, and the challenging financial circumstances behind her adoption.

Initially, Tena, fluent in French and familiar with Korean sensibilities, intercedes to facilitate communication, sometimes defusing Freddie’s anger in translation, finding kinder words to convey her answers or appealing to the heroine’s better angels in search for compassion. In most instances, however, emotion needs no interpreting, like when her grandmother cries inconsolably, and in others, English operates as a broken intermediate language.

There’s no instant bond of kinship, just the burden of her father’s expectations for a relationship and his guilt, manifested in late-night, inebriated text messages that Freddie cannot fully understand but knows are charged with pent-up regret. In truth, the two are, for now, not much more than an appendix in each other’s lives, a testament of what wasn’t.

On Park’s miraculously expressive face, we can read that Freddie ponders in silence not only who she would have become had she stayed in South Korea, but also who she would have continued being had she not met these people. This fork in the road highlights that few aspects of our foundational experiences are solely ours — even her past as a pianist derived from her adoptive parents.

A perceptive Tena can see through her façade of indifference and into her quiet unraveling. And as Freddie dismisses the advances of a casual sex partner, enticed by her Western self-assurance, Tena asks her to consider for a moment the local point of view on romance.

Freddie responds, “But I’m French,” to which her patient pal retorts, “You’re also part Korean.” Is it possible for her to be both of these at once within the same lifetime, camouflaging across continents? Definitely. Could she ever become Yeon-Hee? Maybe a version of her, but never the one her Korean relatives may have imagined on their own.

Halfway through Chou’s sublimely written and sleekly photographed portrait inspired by a personal friend, the narrative propels us two years and then five years into the future.

Chaos embodied, Freddie now walks the streets of Seoul wearing dark lipstick and the confidence of familiarity with the surroundings. But like everything else, this feeling is temporary. Later, she will yet again feel out of place in a mostly foreign land. It’s in the physical and tonal transitions that each time jump brings about that the magnitude of Park’s performance, one of stunning emotional versatility, begins to set in.

Tucked into an uninhibited laugh, a stern gaze or a vigorous dance, the astounding actor personifies the process of a relentless evolution. That “Return to Seoul” represents her first-ever role in a feature production is hard to believe. Park’s artistry of incarnation beguiles both in the subtler calibrations and when Freddie’s defense mechanisms take over the spotlight with violent abandon, as if to remind the world that she is a part of it, an uncontrollable force that must stay in motion to survive.

For every posed question, Chou offers a surprising outcome. Latter chapters in the decade for which we follow Freddie, for example, see her picking up a few phrases in Korean. Every new word learned is a building block of a makeshift bridge between her and her father. And as she changes, more times than we can predict, he changes too, slowly.

Notably, music emerges as the most honest vehicle for them to bond over, and as the cinematic element that most closely parallels Freddie’s metamorphoses. Chou’s chosen cues and Jérémie Arcache and Christophe Musset’s score sonically map her inner discovery with an expertly deployed collection of upbeat, melancholy and transfixing tracks.

Via the cosmic waltz of what-ifs, why-nots, what-nows rushing through Freddie, it becomes clear that the wound of disconnection never fully heals for those with interstitial identities. She can only control what parts of each to nurture, and what path to walk onward with them.

At one point, a high-stakes professional opportunity exploits her fragmented sense of self, with Freddie advocating for European interests in South Korea. And for a while, this further complicates her understanding of the layers that comprise her. Luckily, a career detour, a shorter haircut or a new diet don’t define her essence; she still knows how to sight-read without restraint.

Worthy of multiple viewings, “Return to Seoul” establishes that in our fixation with resolutions, with the certainty of forever-afters, we fail to realize that human existence entails pausing and restarting, forgetting and remembering, hurting and forgiving, learning and leaving behind. Nothing is definitively lost nor permanently gained, but all is cycling within us, always, as we contain all the people we once were and all of those we’ll never be.

‘Return to Seoul’

In English, French and Korean with English subtitlesRated R for brief drug use, nudity and languageRunning time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 2, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles, for one-week awards-qualifying run; opens Feb. 17, 2023

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Hawaii firefighter injured when swept away in storm drain

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — A Hawaii firefighter was critically injured Friday when he was swept into a storm drain and carried the length of eight football fields until being dumped ... Read more »

Massive 85-vehicle Wisconsin pileup injures 27, blocks major interstate for hours in both directions

Dozens of people were hurt in a traffic pileup in southern Wisconsin on Friday amid snowy weather. The crash involving approximately 85 vehicles blocked Interstate 39/90 for hours, according to ... Read more »

Rep. Elise Stefanik to probe FBI’s role in limo crash that killed 20

The top of the limo is all that can be seen after a collision in front of the Apple Barrel Cafe at Route 30 and Route 30A in Schoharie. Peter ... Read more »

Racial tension over control of charity for historic Black musician Harry T. Burleigh keeps $2M endowment in limbo as two sides hash it out in court

A spat between a wealthy white philanthropist and a Black musician over ‘white supremacy’ and a $2 million endowment threatens to derail a New York charity’s effort to revive the ... Read more »

Sunday racing tips for Sedgefield, Fontwell, Southwell and Naas

The Planet Sport tipsters have four meetings to get stuck into on Sunday, January 29...weather allowing. Read more »

The Clever Way Rachael Ray Gets Rid Of Frying Oil

Rachael Ray smiling There’s an entire industry to help restaurants get rid of the oil they use to fry their favorite foods. According to Freight Waves, eight and a half ... Read more »

President, protesters, athletes and politicians mourn Tyre Nichols

The brutal beating and death of Tyre Nichols, who was kicked, shocked with Tasers, and pepper-sprayed by five Memphis police officers, has reverberated across the United States, with activists, athletes, ... Read more »

Ty Dillon’s Competitive Cup Series Opportunities Might Be Gone for Good

Ty Dillon has never had a chance to run an elite NASCAR Cup Series car. But his lackluster results in multiple mid-tier opportunities might mean his new job in 2023 ... Read more »

This 1 Compact SUV Sold More in 2022 Than Ever Before, but Is It Worth It?

If you have not noticed this new SUV on the roads yet, that could be about to change. This compact SUV sold 40,940 units in 2022, more than it ever ... Read more »

Joe Burrow reacts to horrible Bengals news

Joe Burrow When the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game on Sunday night, they’ll be doing it without three of their starting offensive ... Read more »

Moguls: Tesla's chief ratchets up the risks

Elon Musk. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Was Elon Musk serious about taking the company private? The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web: Tesla CEO ... Read more »

‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ Moves Up To No. 4 Biggest Movie Ever Global, Leaving ‘Force Awakens’ In Its Wake

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, Tonowari (voice: Cliff Curtis), 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection Everett Collection/Disney Earlier this week, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way ... Read more »

Tyre Nichols: Protesters across US demand justice

Memphis Police released bodycam footage showing the moment Tyre Nichols called for his mother as he was beaten by five officers before he died. Read more »

For my Chinese American parents, ballroom dancing brought fun, comfort and a sense of belonging

Dance partners practicing in their formal dance clothesGetty Images/electravk I woke up last Sunday to the news of the shooting in Monterey Park, and my head spun — this was ... Read more »

Blue Jays announce Rogers Centre's new outfield dimensions

A general view of Rogers Centre Reports surfaced last week that the Blue Jays’ renovations to Rogers Centre would involve some changes to the playing field, and those changes were ... Read more »

Protesters gather across U.S. in wake of Tyre Nichols beating video

Jan. 28 (UPI) — Protesters took to the streets in cities across the country on Friday following the release of video of the beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police ... Read more »

Who gives the best retirement advice? Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey or economists?

Who gives the best retirement advice? Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey or economists? ROBERT POWELL’S RETIREMENT PORTFOLIO Millions of people get their financial advice from non-economists, personal finance authors such ... Read more »

Large 80-Pound Akita Dog Adorably Turns Into a Frightened Puppy While Meeting a Tiny Cat for the First Time

Badger is an 80 lb Akita mix. The pup is mixed with many other large breeds like American Bulldog, German Shepard, and Rottweiler, who are also used for some of ... Read more »

A Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate and her husband want to reportedly open an indoor gun range to host weddings, 'high-end meetings' and 'easter egg hunts'

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow is a candidate for the state’s Supreme Court. Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool, File Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow announced her plan ... Read more »

Electric vehicles more expensive to fuel than gas-powered cars at end of 2022: consulting firm

Research shows that rising electricity prices and stabilizing gas prices made internal combustion engine cars more economical than their electric counterparts in late 2022 Read more »

In Tyre Nichols’ name: What the killing of a young man in Memphis tells us about policing in America

Memphis’ police chief said video of the Jan. 10 beating by five police officers that killed 29-year-old Tyre Nichols included “acts that defy humanity.” We had fair warning, but the ... Read more »

Shooting near Beverly Hills leave three dead, four injured

Breaking news An early-morning shooting near Beverly Hills on Saturday left at least three people dead and four in critical condition, police said. Sgt. Frank Preciado of the Los Angeles ... Read more »

NYC complaints range from barking dogs to sirens

Gothamites filed 739,527 noise complaints to the 311 hotline in 2022. Helayne Seidman Start spreadin’ the earplugs! Gothamites filed 739,527 noise complaints to the 311 hotline in 2022 for everything ... Read more »

Who is the Chiefs owner's daughter? Meet Gracie Hunt, social media star and Miss Kansas USA 2021

Who is the Chiefs owner’s daughter? Meet Gracie Hunt, social media star and Miss Kansas USA 2021 Most sports fans in Kansas City are familiar with Lamar Hunt, the late ... Read more »

Mysterious Blue Orb Captured by Second Witness

Mysterious Blue Orb Captured by Second Witness A bright blue dot spotted recently in Texas skies seems to have been recorded from a completely separate location, although it is possibly ... Read more »

Jimmie Johnson headlines three-driver Garage 56 entry for Le Mans

Jimmie Johnson headlines three-driver Garage 56 entry for Le Mans Officials with the Garage 56 project announced a driver roster Saturday for the entry in the 24 Hours of Le ... Read more »

Embrace the Stock Breakout for Colossal Gains in 2023

You may not believe it. But the stock market is in full-on “breakout mode” right now. Yesterday, stocks soared after the December PCE report confirmed that inflation continued to collapse ... Read more »

The Rollout of the Memphis Police Videos Was Highly Choreographed

The Rollout of the Memphis Police Videos Was Highly Choreographed As multiple video recordings of the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis were released to the public on ... Read more »

The Most Unreliable Cars According To Consumer Reports

The Most Unreliable Cars According To Consumer Reports When buying a new car, the first thing you will want to know is if it is reliable or not. Of course, ... Read more »

NBA Trade Rumors: The Bulls Could Trade Zach LaVine And Build A Suitable Roster Around DeMar DeRozan

Zach LaVine is one of the names heavily doing the rounds when it comes to trade market discussions. Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports With the NBA trade deadline looming, changes ... Read more »

Elon Musk Reveals His Favorite Car

Elon Musk Reveals His Favorite Car Tesla CEO says there’s a car he’s going to drive every day. Elon Musk has already inscribed his name in automotive history. He will ... Read more »

Fewer Americans will qualify for this overlooked, but valuable tax credit

A valuable tax credit that many taxpayers normally miss won’t be available to as many Americans as last year. The pandemic enhancements for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that ... Read more »

Donald Sutherland Cost Himself Millions By Negotiating His Own Animal House Contract

Donald Sutherland in Animal House There are two situations where you should never speak without a lawyer present. One is when you’re being questioned by the police, and the other ... Read more »

Two Tennessee deputies suspended after Tyre Nichols bodycam footage released

Authorities in Memphis released body camera video and additional surveillance video of the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols. Two more Tennessee law enforcement officers were relieved of duty after the ... Read more »

Starmer's 'radical' promises have gone as he targets power - but we still don't really know who he is

Labour is at pains to stress more than ever that Sir Keir is radically different from his predecessor. However, the party needs to tell a more convincing story about the PM hopeful if it wants to overturn years of Conservative rule. Read more »

2 of 6 arrested in undercover online sex sting waive hearings

Jan. 28—Two of six men arrested in a December underage sex sting operation waived preliminary hearings before Magisterial District Judge Andrew Goldberg. Joseph P. Fahy, 48, of Media, and Stephen ... Read more »

It's all in the past: What happened on January 28

It’s all in the past: What happened on January 28 BISMARCK, N.D (KXNET) — Today is Saturday, January 28, the 28th day of 2023. There are 337 days left in ... Read more »

A Portland woman said a gas station employee told her 'I don't serve Black people." 3 years later, a jury awarded her $1 million in damages.

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images A Portland, Oregon, woman was awarded $1 million following a racist incident in 2020, KGW reported. Rose Wakefield said a gas station employee told her, ... Read more »

32 Stay-At-Home Jobs For Moms (or Dads)

Raising children presents a unique new set of challenges, none of which come with a playbook or a paycheck.  Parenthood is rewarding, but not always on a daily basis. The ... Read more »

Snow conditions lead to massive pileup in Wisconsin

Snow conditions lead to massive pileup in Wisconsin Dozens of cars were involved in a massive pileup amid snowy conditions in southern Wisconsin, authorities said Friday. Driving the news: At ... Read more »
Kênh kiến thức kỹ năng, phát triển bản thân, hướng nghiệp, blog nhân sự