From one “lost soul” to another, I felt a deep connection with visual artist Park Ji-Min (also known as Ji-Min) as a person. I also felt deeply connected with her character Freddie in the Cannes 2022 gem, “Return to Seoul,” directed by Davy Chou. The film follows a French girl, who is South Korean by birth named Freddie. Freddie was adopted by a French family at a young age and has grown up in France. She takes an impulsive trip to South Korea in search for her birth parents, and in some ways, herself.
As we follow Freddie in this journey, the movie reminded me of my favorite film of all time “Lost in Translation” by my favorite director, Sofia Coppola. But instead of chronicling the whereabouts of Bill and Scarlett, we follow Freddie (Ji-Min) and the music. Music guides us and shows us the feelings of Freddie that cannot be expressed in words. In my conversation with Ji-Min, we talk about her acting debut, how her work as a visual artist helped her in reconstructing this character, and how dancing can be the most beautiful thing.
“Return to Seoul” is now playing in LA and NYC, and will soon be coming to theaters nationwide!
What brought you to this project?
Davy Chou and I have a mutual friend, Erwan Ha Kyoon Larcher. He is South Korean and was adopted by a French family. Davy and my friend met at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland in 2019. Davy asked him a lot of questions about his experience as an adoptee and whether he knew of an actress who was a Korean adoptee from a French family. My friend told him, “No, I don’t know any actresses, but I think you should meet one of my close friends, Ji-Min.” All that Davy was sharing with him about the character Freddie reminded him of me. So that is how I was introduced to Davy.
As a visual artist, was there anything that you channeled within that character?
Being a visual artist and being a creative person helped me so much in my process of creating Freddie. When I create a work of art, I am always using many different mediums. I approached playing this character in the same way, but with my body, with my face, with my looks, and what was inside my head. Of course acting is quite different. As a visual artist, you use materials, but as an actor, you are using yourself. But I looked at playing the character like I was creating something. If I wasn’t a visual artist, I don’t think I would have shared the same experience.
I loved the music component of the film, how it starts with Freddie putting the headphone on the girls, to the end where she is playing piano. Can you talk about the role of music in the film and how that contributed to Freddie’s character?
The music is present in the film when Freddie cannot express herself with words. I think the music is here when it is impossible for people to communicate. The music is the link.
For Davy, he chose the way he used music in the film because of his love for music. For him, music was used as a way to communicate, and he wanted to convey that while sharing his joy in hearing different kinds of music.
The music in the movie is like a character in itself. Almost every time there is music or a song, Freddie communicates with it and there is a strong connection. I think music is visually invisible, but is the connecting character to Freddie. That is my interpretation of the music in the film.
Can you talk about the scene where you are dancing in that bar, and you are so free? That is my favorite scene in the film.
For me, this scene is one of the most important scenes in the film. This is the scene where we can feel everything from Freddie. This is where she reveals all of her vulnerabilities, her strength, her pain, and also her joy. Even though Freddie can be seen as a dark character, she also burns with light. We all, as people, are so complex and full of paradoxes. Freddie never stays still, she is constantly moving. And that dance scene is so important. Her relationship physically with music is so strong. She expresses all sadness, the anger, but also the joy.
Doing that scene, I was very present. Dancing is a very important part of my life. I dance every day in my studio or at home. It is vital for me. When I, as Ji-Min, dance, I truly get into a trance. Sometimes I think if I was going to die when I was dancing, it would be the most beautiful and joyful death. I really often think about it. I think that scene shows the complexity of that, going through very deep feelings, but also joy.
Davy said in the press notes: “I see her as a sort of agent of chaos who seeks out vitality and the change that stems from that.” What do you feel “Freddie” as a strong female character is bringing to the screen that we haven’t seen before?
In creating Freddie, we deconstructed the character to create her together. It is funny that he said that Freddie is an agent of chaos because when we came together, I almost destroyed his script in the process of rebuilding the character with him. We don’t really see a lot of female characters onscreen like Freddie who are also Asian female characters.
We are so used to seeing clichés and stereotypes in Asian female characters, like they are very quiet, and often objectified and sexualized by men. I thought these clichés and stereotypes were important to destroy. We did this, because for me, there were so many parts of the script that reflected the male gaze. So we talked a lot about that and rebuilt Freddie hand in hand. I think this is what we see onscreen.
You should be so proud of this performance. It is amazing. What do you hope people see in this film and your character?
That’s really interesting that you asked this question, because I asked myself this question a few days ago. And I think if you ask me the same question in a few days, it will be the same answer, but I may have things to add to my response. A few days ago, when I asked myself that question, my response was that, for me, Freddie is a lost soul. There’s nothing wrong with that. I am myself, as Ji-Min, a lost soul. But the fact is that we all keep on moving even if we don’t have the right answers for our life, or answers that would please us.
I think Freddie is a fighter, and in the same way she is a lost soul. I hope that all the lost souls that watch this movie see themselves in this character. I don’t think the movie can heal people, but I hope it will make people feel less alone, and feel connected to that. We will fall, but we will keep moving. I think that all of the lost souls will recognize themselves in Freddie and feel less alone, and that we are all in this together.