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CANNES 2022 Un Certain Regard

Davy Chou • Director of Return to Seoul

“I take great pleasure in helping filmmakers accomplish their vision, when I really admire their talent”

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- CANNES 2022: We met up with the French-Cambodian director, who has crafted an impressive and intimate feature around the topics of adoption and identity

Davy Chou • Director of Return to Seoul
(© Julien Lienard)

Director Davy Chou has presented his new feature Return to Seoul [+see also:
film review
interview: Davy Chou
film profile
]
at Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard section. This is his second feature after Diamond Island [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, but Chou is extremely active as a producer as well: wearing this hat, he was present at Cannes last year with Onoda – 10 000 Nights in the Jungle [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Arthur Harari
film profile
]
. We talked to him about his protagonist, played by a first-time actress, his approach to South Korean culture and his personal link to the story.

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Cineuropa: Where does your interest in the topic come from? How did the idea for the film come about?
Davy Chou:
The idea was born of a personal experience I had a little more than ten years ago. I have a close friend who was born in South Korea, but who lives in France. She shares the same story as the protagonist of my film. We travelled together to Korea. First, it was clear that we wouldn't go and meet her Korean father, because she had a difficult relationship with him. But then, after a few days at the Busan Film Festival, she suddenly told me that she would meet him all the same and asked me if I wanted to join her. A few days later, we caught the bus and ended up in front of her family, her father and grandmother. I was speechless faced with that situation, as I was very moved.

How did you find your protagonist and the actors who play her family?
For the main protagonist, it was very hard. The actress had to access some very dark places of anger and self-destruction, but also some very joyful and charismatic places, as well as some more vulnerable ones. I found out that in France, it is not easy to find an actress with a Korean background. I finally found Park Ji-Min, who is not an adoptee; she was born in Korea, but moved to France at the age of eight. She has this talent that non-professional actors have, of not showing their ego too much. Together, we discussed the dialogue and changed a lot of things.

I was very grateful to be able to work with some great Korean actors, such as Oh Kwang-Rok, the father, who is a regular in Park Chan-wook’s movies. He has immense sensitivity. And Kim Sun-young, who plays the aunt, is the most famous actor in our film. It was a luxury to be able to work with such actors. I mixed them with European ones. It was very exciting to mix different backgrounds, languages and acting styles. I think it is really the heart of the film to mix different cultures and identities, and to play with that – to show how difficult it is to connect sometimes.

The search for one’s identity and one’s place in life is a recurrent theme in your films. What would you say is the driving force behind your wish to make movies?
I believe that subconsciously, although it might seem obvious to other people, my personal background and story have fed into the way I see things and the films I have decided to make. My parents moved away from Cambodia in the 1970s, just before the Khmer Rouge regime. A large part of my family died during this regime, and the rest decided to live in France. So I was raised in a certain kind of ignorance regarding Cambodia, and only at the age of 25 did I decide to go there and learn about it. Just like my character Freddie, I began to explore a past I knew I had, but which I didn't know the specific details of.

Last year, you were present at Cannes, as a producer, with Onoda. Could you tell us more about your activity and plans as a producer?
I have been producing since 2010; since then, I have gradually been more and more involved with the Cambodian film industry. I have been in touch with Cambodian directors or aspiring directors who wanted to make films, but who suffered because of the lack of producers there. I felt that they had so many things to say, and so much talent, and so I decided to get involved. It is definitely not easy to do both things, because these are two different energies that are sometimes contradictory. In six years, I produced around five or six short films, at the same time as writing my own film. My last two big productions, two feature-length ones, are White Building [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, which was shown last year at Venice, and Onoda, at Cannes. It was very stimulating. I take great pleasure in helping filmmakers accomplish their vision, when I really admire their talent. But I believe it also nourished me as a director, not only from a technical standpoint, but also through the different life experiences and the different points of view.

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