‘Return to Seoul’ Review: Found in Translation

On a whim, a Frenchwoman goes to visit South Korea, the country of her birth, in Davy Chou’s drama.

“Return to Seoul” is a startling and uneasy wonder, a film that feels like a beautiful sketch of a tornado headed directly toward your house. The first-time actor Park Ji-Min, a French artist, delivers a full-bodied performance as Frédérique Benoît, a reckless 25-year-old adoptee born in South Korea and raised in Paris who books a flight to her birthplace on a whim. Freddie doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t have the names of her biological parents, and doesn’t want to blend in. Nudged to obey the local custom of pouring alcohol only for others, she snatches a bottle of soju and chugs.

In this boozy opening sequence, the writer-director Davy Chou unleashes a character who, one senses, has never felt comfortable anywhere. Magnetic, sexy, mercurial and bold, Freddie is an object of fascination to everyone she meets: a bookish hotel clerk (Guka Han), a sweet-faced nerd who wants more than a one-night stand (Kim Dong-Seok), a grimy tattooer with a stash of psychedelics (Lim Cheol-Hyun) and an international arms dealer twice her age (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) who arranges a rendezvous on a hookup app.

Freddie craves stimulation, shifting personalities several times over the eight years of the film — tomboy to glamour punk to wellness drone — confessing that South Korea’s effect on her is “toxic.” The script, shot in vivid colors by the cinematographer Thomas Favel, doesn’t indulge in psychoanalysis. Still, it’s not hard to imagine how a kid who couldn’t help standing out in the schoolyard would grow into a misfit incapable of forming genuine bonds with those she meets and discards.

In full: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/01/movies/return-to-seoul-review.html

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