Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Song Kang Ho, Gang Dong Won, Doona Bae, Lee Ji Eun, Lee Joo Young
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Clover Films
Opening Day: 23 June 2022
Synopsis: Sang-hyun (SONG Kang Ho) runs a laundry shop, but is constantly saddled with debt. Dong-soo (GANG Dong Won), who grew up in an orphanage, works in a baby box facility. One night in the pouring rain, they secretly carry off an infant who was left at the baby box. But on the following day, the mother So-young (LEE Ji Eun) unexpectedly returns for her son Woo-sung. Realizing that her baby has been taken, she is about to call the police when the two men tell her everything. Their claim that they stole the baby in order to find him a good home seems outrageous, but So-young ends up joining Sang-hyun and Dong-soo on a journey to find new parents for Woo-sung. Meanwhile, the police detective Su-jin (Doona BAE) and her younger colleague Detective Lee (LEE Joo Young) are witnessing all of this as it unfolds. They silently tail the group, hoping to catch them in the act at all costs to wrap up their half-year investigation. Brought together by chance through a baby box, the five individuals embark on an unusual and unexpected journey.
Comparisons with his Palme d’Or winning ‘Shoplifters’ are inevitable, especially given how both revolve around surrogate families, but writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest deserves to be appreciated in its own regard.
The film’s title refers to the illegal baby trade, which as we learn along the course of the movie, is a necessary evil for couples who are unable to have their own children and hope to circumvent the bureaucratic and financial challenges of legal adoption.
Engaged in such black market selling is debt-ridden laundromat owner Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), who is in cahoots with part-time church worker Dong-soo (Gang Dong Won) to steal infants abandoned at the church’s ‘baby box’ to sell them to eager couples. One such baby is Woo-sung, left behind by a visibly distressed So-young (Lee Ji Eun) one rainy night at the Busan Family Church.
Unbeknownst to both brokers, a pair of female detectives (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) are staking out the church, and are soon on their tail. The other complication is So-young, who returns to the church the day after to reclaim her son, forcing Sang-hyun and Dong-soo to bring her into their operation in order to stop her from going to the police.
Instead of walking away with Woo-sung, So-young makes a deal with them to split the money from the sale, a decision that will make perfect sense later on when we learn who she is, how she got pregnant, and why she could not keep Woo-sung. Their road trip to meet potential adoptive parents will include a stopover at an orphanage, where they will meet an adorably mischievous kid named Hae-jin whom they will find as a stowaway at the back of their beat-up van after it is too late to turn back.
It is no secret that the group will become a family over the course of their time together, but Kore-eda cultivates their unlikely bond with empathy, dignity and poignancy. Each one of these characters carries his or her own baggage, whether is it a failed marriage, childhood abandonment, estrangement or even a murder charge; and yet, it is precisely these afflictions that make the moments between them even more precious, meaningful and heartfelt.
Such is the elegance of Kore-eda’s directorial craft that their idiosyncratic trip never comes off contrived – nowhere is this more apparent than in a Ferris wheel ride late into the film, where what could be schmaltz turns into easily the most touching sequence of the whole movie as both Sang-hyun and Dong-soo set aside their disappointment and fears to comfort Hae-jin and So-young respectively. Notwithstanding their own brokenness, the notion of them coming together to help each other make the best of their circumstances is deeply moving to say the very least.
Those familiar with Kore-eda’s works will certainly not be surprised by how deftly he handles tough subject matter with a light touch. Even so, there is no denying the dilemmas at play here. Should a mother give birth to a child if she is not prepared to raise him? Is not giving him a chance to live at all a worse sin? How do we as a society make good with the children who have been abandoned by their parents? Rather than asking them pointedly, Kore-eda teases these issues out of the predicaments of the respective characters; and we might add that it includes the uptight Su-jin (Doona), who comes to terms with her own emptiness over a gorgeous homage to Paul Thomas Anderson with the Aimee Mann song ‘Wise Up’.
So even though it isn’t as brilliant as ‘Shoplifters’, this drama of a different unconventional family has impeccable compassion, delicacy and empathy, even by Kore-eda’s humanist standards. Though again not working in his native language, Kore-eda coaxes some of the best performances from the Korean cast, including standout leads in Song and Gang and a layered supporting act in Lee. Especially for those looking for affirmation in the face of life’s seemingly daunting challenges, ‘Broker’ is a reminder that no life is perfect, and it is ultimately what we make out of the moments we have that truly matter.
(Warm, funny, poignant and ultimately uplifting, this latest unconventional family drama from writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of the year's best feel-good films)
Review by Gabriel Chong