Wanted to offer a counter perspective to adoption stories with 'Return to Seoul' director Davy Chou

12 July 2023

New Delhi, Jul 12 (PTI) Most "journey to the roots" stories conclude in easy reconciliation, says Cambodian-French director Davy Chou, who wanted to offer a counter perspective through "Return to Seoul", his critically-acclaimed film about an adoptee's search for connection and meaning.
    The film, currently streaming on MUBI India, revolves around Freddie, a 25-year-old French-Korean played by artist-sculptor Park Ji-min. On a whim, Freddie lands in Seoul, a trip that may look unplanned but what she is actually looking for is a way to connect with her biological parents.
    Chou said as someone who grew up with two cultural identities, he understands the confusion that comes with trying to make sense of one's origin.
    "In the 'journey to the roots' classical story, (there's) always some kind of happy, full closure happening at the end of the film. I just feel like, 'Guys, it's not that simple!' I was excited to offer a counter perspective on that kind of a classical film," he told PTI in an interview.
    Chou co-wrote "Return To Seoul" with his childhood friend Laure Badufle, who as a Korean-French adoptee, is also the real-life inspiration behind the movie.
    The director, whose parents fled Cambodia just before the Khmer Rouge genocide in 1975, recalled how it all started when Badufle asked him to accompany her to meet her biological father in South Korea in 2011.
    "If I was to imagine, I would have maybe imagined more tears and more like people sharing experiences. But it was very different. It's something that really shocked me because it was so emotional, but also maybe so different from what I would have expected from such a reunion," he said.
    Chou said Badufle, who is a yogini, life coach and artist, confided in him that she also felt frustrated with films and documentariese around the theme of adoption always ending in reconciliation "with yourself, all your identities and your culturally different families".
    "She said that was not her experience of meeting her biological father, which just brought up more questions. I relate to that because even though I'm not adopted, I myself have a different origin. Like Cambodia, which I decided to visit when I was 25, which is the same age as Freddie's in the beginning of the film," he said.
    Chou said he understands why the story of "Return To Seoul", which opened to glowing reviews at its Cannes Film Festival premiere in 2022, found a connection with the audiences.
    "A lot of us are like second generation or third generation of immigrants who are curious because they also have the chance to be able to travel, to go to the country where they're supposed to come from, but you often know nothing about or you believe you know something and you find out that you know nothing," he said.
    "That's very contemporary and thematic, but I rarely find it treated in the way that will speak to my own experience. So that's basically why I wanted to make the film," he added.
    Chou said it has been more challenging for Badufle to see "the chapter of her life re-emerge for two hours" on the big screen.
    "She watched the film at the same time with 1,000 people at Cannes, which is a bit brutal, and it was not a good experience, I would say," he admitted.
    Weeks after the Cannes screening, he said, they had coffee in Paris and the filmmaker thought his friend felt "a bit down" with all that was happening around the film.
    "Then, she came back to another screening. Participating and talking with the audience was an important moment for her to get back the ownership of her story. She felt good afterwards," he added.
    The success of the film and the way the story has resonated with other adoptees has also been comforting for Badufle, said Chou.
    "Even now, I think it's still a rollercoaster emotional thing for her, which is normal. It's not easy to see your life on the big screen and people discussing it everywhere. You don't really have control on that."