Cambodian candidate for the Oscars | Return to Seoul shakes up clichés about adoption

(Busan) Return to Seoul, Cambodian candidate for the next Oscars, was shot in South Korea by a Franco-Cambodian director with a star of Korean origin. The film, which shakes up clichés about adoption, is difficult to classify, and that is precisely the goal, explains its director Davy Chou to AFP.

The work tells the story of Freddie, an adopted Frenchwoman of Korean origin who, whimsical and without complexes, embarks at the age of 25 on a quest to find her biological parents.

Freddie constantly fights against “people who always want to put her in a box, (whether she) is considered French or Korean or adopted”, explains Mr. Chou to AFP.

At the recent Busan Film Festival in South Korea, many viewers struggled to identify “the origin or nationality of the film”, which is precisely the goal, he continues.

This multicultural tale was shot in South Korea — from the Itaewon district in Seoul to the city of Jeonju, in the south of the country — with a Korean and European crew, a screenplay originally written in French, and on a 1960s music by South Korean psychedelic rock legend Shin Jung-hyeon.

Born in France 39 years ago into a family of Cambodian immigrants, Davy Chou discovered as a teenager that his grandfather had been one of Cambodia’s leading film producers in the 1960s.

At the age of 25, like Freddie, he had made a trip to this Southeast Asian country that had transformed his life.

Double identity

He now lives in Cambodia, and says his work is influenced by his own experience of “the issue of dual culture and dual identity, and how to deal with it”.

The plot of Return to Seoul is also inspired by the experience of Davy Chou, who once accompanied a friend, adopted from Korea, on a journey to find her biological parents.

Return to Seoul goes against the clichés circulating in South Korea about adoption, including the spectacle of heartbreaking and seemingly heartwarming reunions between biological parents and adoptees repeatedly shown on national television.

He also points to the absurdity of South Korea’s adoption laws, which prioritize the biological parent’s right to privacy over the rights of the adoptee, and require the national adoption agency to report with families exclusively by telegram, the old fashioned way.

Cambodian candidate for the Oscars Return to Seoul shakes


The complex main character of Return to Seoul is impeccably portrayed by Park Ji-min, who, like Freddie, was born in South Korea but raised in France.

The film’s complex lead character is impeccably played by Park Ji-min, who, like Freddie, was born in South Korea but raised in France.

For meme Park, who moved to France with her family when she was nine, the film was a rare opportunity to create the type of Asian female character she wants to see more often in French cinema.

“Obedience and accommodating”

In France, Asian women are still overwhelmingly considered “obedient, accommodating to what men say, and consigned to the home,” she told AFP.

“As an Asian woman, I am immensely proud to have played such a rare female character in a French film,” she adds.

Freddie is often fierce and direct, even during his traumatic reunion with his biological father’s family.

Return to Seoul also features some of South Korea’s most beloved actors, including Oh Kwang-rok and Kim Sun-young, who play Freddie’s well-meaning, yet completely overwhelmed Korean family.

According to Busan Film Festival programmer Park Sung-ho, while Davy Chou’s work is not legally South Korean (most of its funding comes from Europe), it is “clearly a Korean movie.

“We live in a time when the definition of Korean cinema is constantly expanding,” he told AFP. “The theme of adoption has been present in South Korea for decades, and if a Korean director had made this film, it might have been rather boring.”

For him, “it makes us look at what we thought we were in a different way. That’s what Return to Seoul manages to do”.

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Cambodian candidate for the Oscars | Return to Seoul shakes up clichés about adoption