The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Director Davy Chou does away with cliches about adoptees in ‘Return to Seoul’

By Kim Da-sol

Published : May 7, 2023 - 14:47

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Davy Chou, director of “Return to Seoul” (Atnine Film) Davy Chou, director of “Return to Seoul” (Atnine Film)

“Return to Seoul” is a melancholy drama film revolving around Freddie (Park Ji-min), 25, who is on a search for her biological parents after returning to Seoul for the first time -- similar to other films about Korean adoptees. But that’s where the similarity ends, as the film then takes a surprising turn. Freddie’s arrival in Seoul is also spontaneous. She arrives after her trip to Tokyo is cancelled.

Davy Chou, the Cambodian French filmmaker of “Return to Seoul,” accompanied his friend on a journey looking for her biological parents in 2011. Through that experience, he realized that the process is not only filled with hope and heartwarming emotions, but it is also filled with frustration and even rage.

“From what I heard from my friend and other adoptee friends, the experience of meeting one's biological parents is bound to be a failure. From the parents’ point of view, they want to say something but honestly they know really nothing about their child, and for the adoptees, it’s the same, because the parents are basically strangers,” Davy Chou told The Korea Herald in an interview on April 26.

Chou said most films about Korean adoptees try to depict their encounters with their biological parents in a manner that is too idealistic and dreamlike.

“Scenes that show how parents and children go through a moment of reconciliation are too fictional. Those scenes focus on reassuring the audience about the dramatic encounters of adoptees and their biological parents, only to bring the audience to the comfort zone and portray the positive parts of it. But as far as I know, (each encounter) involves unfiltered emotions such as surprise and roughness,” he added.

Chou’s portrayal of Freddie and her Korean family's unique and awkward journey comes across as realistic and genuine thanks to characters the viewers can empathize with and the work of the actors.

Park Ji-min stars as Korean adoptee Freddie in “Return to Seoul” (Atnine Film) Park Ji-min stars as Korean adoptee Freddie in “Return to Seoul” (Atnine Film)

Park Ji-min, a 35-year-old visual artist based in France who has never acted before this project, was introduced to director Chou through a friend. Chou wanted someone with fluent French speaking ability but with Korean background. Park lived in Korea until she was 8 years-old and then moved to France with her family.

“Some of her intonation while speaking the Korean lines was too native, so we played this game of a French person who doesn’t know Korean listening to the Korean word and telling Ji-min the word, to help her master how Korean words would sound like from a foreigner’s mouth,” Chou said.

Veteran actors Oh Kwang-rok from “Old Boy” (2003) and Kim Sun-young from TvN hit series “Reply 1988” star as Freddie’s biological father and aunt, respectively.

“Just by looking at them acting, for example, when Oh acts without saying anything but just sighing while having a meal with his family, I noticed what a master actor he is,” Chou said, adding that he anxiously waited Kim's response to his offer of the role until a week before shooting began.

“Kim was a great actor not only in terms of her acting but her help in making our film more realistic and making sure the film does not show Korean sentiments and culture in an awkward manner,” Chou said, adding that it was Kim who suggested how an average Korean father wouldn’t play the piano for his daughter and how Freddie’s father, who feels frustrated to see his grown up daughter, would not sit at the middle of the table for a meal.

Although Kim doesn’t have many lines or appear in many scenes, she is the only character in the film who has warmth and actually cares about Freddie’s life back in France, working as a bridge between the biological family and Freddie.

The film, which has earned 9 awards and 19 nominations on the international film festival circuit, including a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival last year, was shown during the 23rd Jeonju International Film Festival last year.

With the theatrical release in Korea coming a year after its showing at Busan, director Chou said that he hopes the audience embraces Freddie’s boldness.

“I hope Freddie can inspire the audience to be able to say no to their dislikes with courage and set new norms without being bound to the existing standards,” he said, adding that his point of view in the the film can send a message about how the lives of adoptees are not something that can be simplified.

The film opened in Korea’s cinemas on May 3.

Actors Kim Sun-young (left) and Oh Kwang-rok star as the biological aunt and father of a Korean adoptee to France in “Return to Seoul.” (Atnine Film) Actors Kim Sun-young (left) and Oh Kwang-rok star as the biological aunt and father of a Korean adoptee to France in “Return to Seoul.” (Atnine Film)