Written and Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young
As I’ve said before, sometimes there is a sense of fulfillment in discovering a film in real time. In other words, experiencing it without the expectations put forth by calculated trailers and readily available synopsis. I’m finding that it is one of the most rewarding things about being a reviewer. I had not heard of Broker, or Kore-eda (sadly) but I was pleased nevertheless – it’s never too late to learn and never too old to discover.
The conception of Broker, its Korean setting and its controversial subject matter, “baby boxes” apparently came about during the production of one Kore-eda’s earlier films. They refer to a mechanical receptacle, where child owners (mostly mothers) can anonymously abandon newborns safely. While the idea has been around throughout history, baby boxes in modern Korea were popularized by a Korean pastor in the late 2000s, after a child left at the front of his church died from exposure.
In the film, Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), an owner of a laundry and sewing shop, works at a local church where he and his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) steal babies from the baby box. They then sell the babies to prospective parents for a significant fee. One night, after taking a newborn from the baby box and deleting the church’s surveillance footage, they discover that the mother, Moon So-young (Lee Ji-eun), has returned for the child. Together, they decide to collectively meet and interview the potential parents while being in the sight of 2 police officers trying to catch them in the act.
Broker opens with a melancholic scene of Moon So-young, carrying her baby in the rain and heading to the church baby box. It’s a bleak beginning that our seasoned movie plot brains would expect to be another grim Asian drama. But Kore-eda plays with our expectations here, gifting us instead with an unexpectedly poignant road film, nuanced with subtle slices of tenderness, humor and realism.
The whole cast is excellent (many will recognize Song Kang-ho from 2019’s Parasite), providing a compatible match with Kore-eda’s clear and concise dialogue, and fitting into this minimal world cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo has visually created. Broker works from that conciseness, and it’s a smooth ride getting to care about these characters. The realistic feel of the film permeates throughout, no doubt due to Kore-eda’s history as an accomplished documentarian.
Interestingly, Broker had all the ingredients for the classic noir-thriller: 2 criminals, a femme fatale, gangsters, police, etc. But Kore-eda takes it unto its own path, telling a human story without all the glitz and fairy dust. The narrative lies in that middle ground where simple dialogue and direction can make for compelling cinema. Broker is an impressive piece of filmmaking and a touching one that goes beyond just baby boxes – it’s an introspection into chosen or found families and the meaning or ‘terms’ of unconditional love.
Review by Vince Caro
Have you seen BROKER? What did you think?