Return to Seoul review: "A nimble investigation into identity"

Park Ji-min in Return To Seoul
(Image: © mk2 films)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Minor plot stumbles aside, Park Ji-min’s electric lead energises a nimble investigation into identity.

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Between bouts of partying and freeform dancing, newcomer Park Ji-min brings a near-musical virtuosity to this questing character piece. Writer/director Davy Chou knows his lead’s worth: trusting deeply in Park, he anchors a captivating portrait of choppy selfhood in her febrile nuances of expression.

Born in South Korea, Park’s Freddie was raised in France by foster parents. At 25, she revisits Seoul – by accident, she claims – and locates her birth parents, spurring a free-roaming journey of self-discovery that swerves between homefront clashes and hedonistic excesses.

Channelling Wong Kar-wai’s influence, Chou directs as if by intuition, taking radical turns and time jumps as Freddie’s episodic story develops. Not all of his twists convince – Freddie’s period selling arms, say – but his alert, watchful direction makes the film feel alive in each moment, centred on the now but ever poised to dart off on fresh trajectories.

Among a fine cast that also includes Oldboy’s Oh Kwang-Rok as her birth father, Park provides an immaculately instinctive focus for Chou’s picaresque plotting. Between big nights out and shock career moves, she nails the impression of a woman suspended between stations, determined to map her own life routes. The score by Jérémie Arcache and Christophe Musset matches her impulsive quest beautifully: ushering Freddie from cafes to clubs, its unforced fluency beguiles.

Return To Seoul is in cinemas on May 5 and available on Mubi from July 7. The film first premiered at Cannes in 2022. For more upcoming movies, check out our breakdown of all of the 2023 movie release dates.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.