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Released 2022. Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu

SOME PEOPLE ARE UNABLE TO HAVE A BABY of their own. Some people are unable to keep their baby. Between these two groups there exists a shadowy place where demand meets supply. Broker is a story about exchanging tiny humans for a lot of cash. It poses questions on the abandonment of children, state adoption, social welfare and the definition of family but it’s not as dark as you might think.

It starts on a rainy night in Busan, South Korea. A young mother leaves her infant by the baby box at a church. A church worker and his accomplice take the baby to sell. The mother changes her mind, comes back the next day and the three form an uneasy alliance. What they don’t know is a couple of undercover cops are hot on their trail. Further down, they become involved in a murder investigation.

Dong-soo, the church worker, and Sang-hyun, who runs a dry cleaner and mends garments when he’s not selling babies, are not your typical baby traffickers. They are gentle folks who give a lot of thought about what they do and why they do it. Money of course is one reason, though you feel there are perhaps something more compelling behind their black market operations. So-young, the mother, has her own reasons to give up her son, whom she has named Woo-sung.

The pre-arranged sale falls through when the prospective buyers criticise Woo-sung’s eyebrows and try to bargain for a cheaper price. This couple are clearly not parent material. No sale! While looking for a new buyer, the quartet (counting the baby) take a detour to the orphanage where Dong-soo grew up.

Back stories are woven into current events as we learn about their past. These adults are results of broken homes, given up, orphaned, feeling unloved and unwanted. Now they want to match abandoned babies with couples who want them, and get some money in return.

Certainly they are criminals even by any loose definition. What sets them apart is their motivation to give the kids what they’ve each lost, and wish they’ve had: parents, family, a home, like other kids.

The two friends and the sullen mother tolerate each other before they gradually learn to sympathise and understand. Along the way, sometimes they pass themselves off as father and daughter, sometimes as husband and wife, as a makeshift family of sorts begin to take shape, with the welfare of Woo-sung at the centre of all they do. Haejin, a cheeky and energetic boy who escapes from the orphanage, joins them and makes the appearance of a family unit even more credible.

The cast is lead by Song Kang-ho, arguably the most recognised Korean actor to international audiences, who portrays Sang-hyun in an understated performance as a simple, ordinary man.

Broker bears a resemblance to Shoplifters, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival 2018. Both movies involve unrelated people forming a close, familial bond amidst challenges that eventually separate them. This is Hirokazu’s first Korean language feature and it continues the theme, tone and dramatic tension of his Japanese works such as Nobody Knows and Like Father Like Son, sharing that incisive understanding of human nature while examining the dings and dents in the jagged realities of parent-child connection.

Broker begins by giving us a one-sided, decidedly negative impression of the protagonists. A heartless mother and two opportunistic baby traffickers set off to make a profit selling a helpless infant to strangers. Gradually, the details in their present and past shift our perception. Notwithstanding what they’re doing, which is criminal, these are not cold-blooded, unprincipled law-breakers. They genuinely care for baby Woo-sung. The two men are also very experienced – bathing, feeding, burping – infant-care appears second nature to them.

While he’s matching babies with new parents, Sang-hyun himself is losing his young daughter to his divorced wife. Dong-soo is still bitter about his birth circumstances and knows all too well what every orphan pines for. So-young is a hardened survivor of exploitation and abuse. These are layered characters whose morality has been shaped and smudged by their own experiences.

Their time together soften their defenses and brings them closer you could almost see a happy ending coming. You think at some point So-young might change her mind after bonding with her baby. You think Dong-soo and So-young might decide to settle down with each other to raise a couple of kids, with Sang-hyun as godfather.

That would’ve been too easy and Hirokazu doesn’t settle for fairytale endings. After all, these characters deal with very challenging decisions. Is it right to break the law if you believe it’ll turn out better for the child? What does love and devotion mean in the family? Broker makes you ponder what is right versus what is illegal. There’s also the thorny question of abortion and abandonment, with more than one character asking why give birth only to give up the baby afterwards.

Echoing elements of a recurring theme in Hirokazu’s earlier movies, Broker is an engaging, humorous and thoughtful journey on an elusive search for a non-existent perfect family.

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


May 29, 2023

Enjoyed this but didn't think it was as impressive as Shoplifters.


May 29, 2023

This stunning film is the type of movie that "Hollywood" would totally ruin if they did a re-make.

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