Freddie, a South Korean adoptee who grew up in France, makes friends with frightening ease in “Return to Seoul,” a carefully wrought character study of a person who lives life with careless abandon. Shortly after we meet the protagonist — played with stunning self-assurance, in her screen debut, by Park Ji-min — Freddie has pulled together three tables of strangers for what might be called a group blind date at a Seoul restaurant. It’s worth noting that she’s there with Tena (Guka Han), the young woman who manages the guesthouse Freddie has just checked into — and who has already been seduced by her customer’s charm. By the end of the night, most of the party will be drunk, and Freddie will have slept with one of them, whom she quickly dumps after he gets too clingy.
The trip itself was pure whim: Freddie had planned to travel to Japan but couldn’t get a ticket. So she has ended up, coincidentally, it would seem, in the country in which she was born.
Everyone assumes she’s there to seek her past. And not long after declaring that she has no intention of tracking down her birth parents, Freddie flips, seeking out the assistance of the agency that arranged her adoption and ultimately setting up a meeting with her birth father (Oh Kwang-rok), who turns out to be just as clingy as her one-night stand. (It’s a trait of Korean men, Tena tells her, enigmatically.) But what might have followed the familiar path of culture shock and discovery of one’s roots, in this story by French Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou — Cambodia’s official Oscar submission — becomes something else entirely.