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Return to Seoul (Blu-ray Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Suupplements
Overall

SUMMARY

A Korean-born Frenchwoman travels to Seoul at the age of 25 in search of her birth parents and discovers a lot about herself and the culture she never knew.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

For his second feature film, Return Seoul, director Davy Chou takes on the fallout of the Korean War and the subsequent years of poverty, authoritarian governments, and many adoptions abroad of Korean-born children that took place in the aftermath.

Frédérique Benoît (Park Ji-min) is a Korean-born woman living in Paris. She was adopted and raised by a French couple. She has not known much about Korean culture, but at 25-years-old, she decides to travel to Seoul to search for her birth parents. There she begins to discover the culture and learn a lot about herself.

Her birth father (Oh Kwang-rok), who has been living with the regret over giving her away for all these years, is the first parent to agree to meet her after being contacted by the Hammond Adoption Agency. His has been living as a hard-drinking, air conditioning repairman with his wife and two daughters, who never knew about his daughter. Frédérique or “Freddie” rushes into meeting him and his family and it does not go well. He becomes obsessed with becoming a part of her life and his maudlin, rambling text messages to her every night are off-putting to her.

The film then begins to jump forward through the years. First it jumps two years. Freddie is now living permanently in Seoul and has become a disillusioned, drug user and club hopper going on random Tinder dates involved in a polyamorous relationship. She has been on a downward spiral of sadness and self-destruction waiting to get a response from her birth mother. The story then skips ahead seven years, Freddie now settled in her life, going to meet her birth father again. The last shift forward is a year and this settles the journey for Freddie once and for all, bringing the self-discovery and cultural awakening full circle.

Chou handles the story delicately, but the story feels like it needed longer to develop. The large jumps forward in time leave a lot of questions unanswered with no exposition. There is a point in the film where Freddie coldly tells one of her companions, she can have him removed from her life “at the snap of her fingers.” We do not have an explanation for this sudden, almost violent shift in tone from her.

What really drives the film is the unquestionably powerful performance from Park Ji-min who is commanding in each frame and conveys the sense of confusion, loss, longing, and self-discovery with delicacy. Veteran actor Oh Kwang-rok (Lady Vengeance, Oldboy) is also a scene stealer, brilliant portraying the maudlin, worn-down father desperate to reconnect with the child he gave away. While this film is not without its flaws and can be melancholy, it is a powerful one that lingers with you after the credits roll.

  • Guka Han and Park Ji-min in Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, and Park Ji-min in Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Park Ji-min in Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Park Ji-min in Return to Seoul (2022)
  • Return to Seoul Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Video

Return to Seoul was shot on the ARRI Alexa Mini with Angenieux EZ zooms and Panavision Primo lenses in ARRIRAW (3.4K) and ProRes 4444 (3.2K) resolutions. The film is beautifully shot but there is a patina of softness overall that hinders the image from looking absolutely crisp. This does not mean there is a lack of detail, however, and there is very good color, shadow nuance, and cinematic quality to the transfer even as it never gets past the digital sheen.

The Audio

Return to Seoul comes with a multilingual French/Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix on Blu-ray. This is a subtle mix that is front-heavy, and dialogue driven. The surrounds carry mild ambience and atmospherics and occasionally come alive with music panned more discretely during some of the clubbing scenes and as part of some of the score. Dialogue is clear and crisp and there is a natural sense of dynamics with a mild low-end extension.

The Supplements

Only the original theatrical trailer (1080p) is included as a bonus.

The Final Assessment

A powerful, stylish, and poignant work about identity and self-discovery, Return to Seoul works on multiple, cultural levels and is presented in an enjoyable and competent Blu-ray release from Sony Pictures Classics.


Return to Seoul is out on Blu-ray April 25, 2023 from Sony Pictures Classics.


  • Rating Certificate: R (for brief drug use, nudity and language)
  • Studios & Distributors: Aurora Films | Vandertastic Films | Frakas Productions | Merecinema | Anti-Archive | Ciné+ | Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) | Filmförderungsanstalt (FFA) | Cinémage 16 | Cofimage 33 | VOO | BE TV | Belga Productions | Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral Belge | Belga Films Fund | Korean Film Council | Seoul Metropolitan Government | Seoul Film Commission | Doha Film Institute | Sony Pictures Classics
  • Director: Davy Chou
  • Written By: Laure Badufle | Davy Chou | Violette Garcia
  • Run Time: 119 Mins.
  • Street Date: 25 April 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: Multilingual French/Korean DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Subtitles: English
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A Korean-born Frenchwoman travels to Seoul at the age of 25 in search of her birth parents and discovers a lot about herself and the culture she never knew.Return to Seoul (Blu-ray Review)