A young French woman who calls herself “Freddie” travels to Seoul on a whim for the first time, saying she’s just there for a couple weeks, you know, to see “everything”. This comes as a surprise to sweet, friendly Tenu (Guka Han) who runs the international guest house. You mean Freddie (Park Ji-min), a foreigner who looks obviously ethnically Korean, isn’t there to find her birth parents?
Freddie is coy, brash, and intriguingly sexually aggressive, at least in the eyes of the twentysomethings she lures to party with her at the local hangout that first night. This wild, worldly woman sure looks like them (“Your friend is very… original!” one girl says to Tenu), but Freddie seems set to show that she is nothing like them at all. She even claims that she is absolutely not interested in finding her biological parents… except maybe she is.
Freddie’s quest is propelled by a conflicting mix of simmering rage and aloofness… but with a building sense of curiosity, despite herself. When she goes to the adoption agency, she is astonished that almost immediately the organization is able to get in touch with her biological father. When she meets her father (Oh Kwang-rok) in his seaside town a few days later, he is both happy and devastated with grief; this young woman was the baby that he let go so many years before. Freddie, in contrast, is mostly shell-shocked. And this is merely the beginning of her journey.
Park Ji-min is eminently watchable as Freddie, a tough-as-nails modern woman who keeps getting lured back to Korea, despite her claims that she feels no connection. Though she masks her feelings with a cool and distant exterior (she will sever a relationship seemingly with nary a thought; she takes a job with an eyebrow-raising international business), she is obviously still profoundly affected by the people and the country.
Freddie’s slow reconciliation with the country that is not her home and the people that gave her up is never portrayed as easy in Return to Seoul. There is no clean, heartwarming, tidy end to her journey. You never get the sense that she is made “whole” by her discoveries and new connections, but over time, you feel that she is establishing her own unique sense of self. It’s less about “what ifs” where things may have been different for Freddie if she hadn’t been adopted away from her birth country… instead it’s more about the reality of her (and many adoptees’) complicated process of acceptance, learning that neither path in life was perfect despite everyone’s best intentions.