Return to Seoul movie review & film summary (2023)

Along with cinematographer Thomas Favel, Chou visualizes Freddie’s trip under a cloud, with many of the movie’s key scenes taking place as the skies are overcast, raining, or when the streets are slicked with rain. The mood is restrained yet somber, sometimes even romantic, given the neon-lit scenes in the city and its nightlife. One of the few times a scene is brightly lit is when Freddie is talking with her adopted parents back in France on a hike. It’s a moment of clarity, but there’s a disconnect between the time difference and what parents and their child are experiencing. Once she hangs up, she is on her own to figure things out for herself.  

As far as complicated characters go, Freddie is an impressive mix of conflicting emotions: angry, lonely, selfish, and resentful. But in her occasional vulnerable moments, there’s a sense of a wounded tenderness, like a bruise that has never quite healed up and will always be a source of pain. Even in Freddie’s cruelest moments, when her antics push away others (and, to some extent, the audience), there’s an understanding from the actor’s performance that her actions are coming from a place of pain and self-preservation. The role is a formidable assignment even for experienced performers, but this intricate character is wonderfully brought to life by first-time actor Park. She gives Freddie her scowls, her defensive body language, and her impish impulses to cause a little chaos from time to time. As the years pass in the movie, so also does Park’s performance acclimate, maturing subtly but not so much that we lose the essence of the character we met pouring her own soju. 

In time, Freddie learns to move and live in the places that made her uncomfortable. For a time, she calls Seoul home; later, it’s just a business trip stop. Her bosses deem her a “Trojan Horse” for her ability to move between countries—but there’s a sense in the movie that she’s still a woman without a place to call home. Chou’s “Return to Seoul” is an uneasy exploration of the concept of home and the heartache of losing it, following an imperfect heroine on her emotional journey to find a home in herself.

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