Broker: Review. by Joe Muldoon.
Affectionately dubbed by Roger Ebert as the possible heir of Yasujiro Ozu (though he personally prefers to be likened to Mikio Naruse and Ken Loach), Hirokazu Kore-eda’s filmography consists of many of the finest family dramas available. Largely inspired by the famous Jusarang Community Church baby box (created by pastor Lee Jong-rak), Kore-eda’s latest film, Broker, is an oddly charming – albeit unorthodox – road trip film, and one whose morality is often deliciously dubious at best.
A young woman, Moon So-young (Ji-eun Lee), leaves her baby in a baby box outside a church in Busan. Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), a hand laundry service owner and church volunteer, steals the baby for his illegal baby broker business. His right-hand man, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), a part-time worker at the church, assists in the brokering by deleting the CCTV footage of his partner taking from the baby box.
When So-young returns to search for her baby after apparently regretting her decision, she discovers the pair’s operation, and instead of busting their activities, decides to join them on a road trip so she can vet prospective adoptive parents. Unbeknownst to the trio, a pair of stakeout cops, Soo-jin and Detective Lee (played by Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young, respectively), have been observing them, and are soon hot on their tail. Soon tagging along with the outlaws is a young orphan boy, Hae-jin (Im Seung-soo), who forms the final piece of what becomes a peculiar, yet loving, ragtag crew.
The dysfunctional impromptu family dynamic is surprisingly endearing, and offers plenty of truly touching moments, including an incredibly powerful scene in which the members are gathered in a small hotel room and offer each other a sincere, “thank you for being born”. Strictly speaking, there should be nothing remotely heartwarming about the story; two men effectively spearhead a baby-kidnapping scam, are joined by a young unwilling mother and small boy on a road trip, and evade the law together. What would be an detestable and insalubrious scheme in real life is transformed into a compassionate tale about the family we choose, and the family we lose.
The tender Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo more or less become surrogate fathers for the vulnerable So-young, and so soft-hearted in particular is Sang-hyeon that he is told by So-young that he will be eaten alive by others if he does not harden up. In the role that won him the Best Actor award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Song Kang-ho performs his acting duty as the lovable criminal with such subtle zest that you cannot help but like him, and Ji-eun’s performance as the rueful mother provides the piece with an appropriately saddening undertone. Also particularly impressive is Seung-soo Im’s performance as the rascally playful Hae-jin, whose approach to the role is an extraordinary blend of boyish curiosity and maturity far beyond his years.
Deliberately stepping away from presenting us with any identifiable objective moral stance, Kore-eda masterfully weaves his story within a grey area. When Sang-hyeon, who himself was abandoned as a child, questions the morals of somebody who leaves their baby in a baby box, So-young explains her heartbreaking circumstance and unsuitability as a mother. Throughout the film, we can see that she struggles with her decision, involuntarily showing genuine care for her baby, and reluctantly assisting with the scheme so that she can be reassured that his prospective adoptive parents will provide him with a better life. Nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or and (deservedly) winning the Ecumenical Jury prize, Kore-eda’s Broker is a skilfully crafted picture that warmly embodies the true spirit of empathy.
By Joe Muldoon
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