Dir.: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Joo-young, Lee Ji-eun, Park Ji-young, Im seung-soo; South Korea 2022, 129′.
Surrogacy is given an upbeat comedy treatment in this touching crowd pleaser from Japanese humanist Hirokazu Kore-eda, his first to take place in Korea.
Broker is very much in the same vein as his Cannes winner Shoplifters, proving once again his talent for turning melodrama into social realism, even though the film is rather too fluffy in its near formalistic conclusion. It all starts in film noir mode: the rain is pelting down on the South Korean city of Busan where distraught mother Moon So-young (Ji-eun) has just given birth to a child she cannot afford to keep. There is a baby hatch in a nearby religious charity building, and she puts baby Woo-sung (Ji-yong) in front of the hatch and disappears into the night. Following hot on her heels are two baby trafficking detectives – Soo-Jin (Dona) and Lee (Joo-young).
The day after, So-young has a change of heart – even though she had put a note into the baby-basket promising that she would return she confronts a pair of kidnappers Ha Sang hyon (Kang-ho) and Dong soo (Dong Gang-dong-won) who are actually stealing her baby for a money-making scam. When So-young threatens the two men with the police, they admit their crime, but offer So-young a part in the “sale” of her baby: it’s always better to have the biological mother present. The detectives are puzzled when So-young gets into the spirit of things, refusing to lower her asking price, even though the adopting couple lower their offer claiming “the baby isn’t as cute as in the photos”.
Broker occasionally risks turning into a farce, but Kore-eda cleverly avoids it. The same going for the role playing changes with the two detectives seemingly are the only ones, who want the baby to be sold, just to solve their case. DoP Hong Kyung-pyo shows off his love of small details, and Song Kang-Ho, who won “Best Actor” in Cannes, perfectly pitches his melancholic take on proceedings. Broker is certainly not Kore-eda’s best, but it may be his warmest, most humanistic and passionate statement, moving the audience without spilling into sentimentality. AS
ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 2023
In his first Korean-set film unfurls itself into another touching, wryly funny tale of surrogate families. It’s not quite on a par with his Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters – what is? – but it’s a crowd-pleaser and a gentle joy, with a standout performance from Parasite’s Song Kang-ho.
Broker opens with a young woman, So-young (K-pop star Ji-eun Lee), leaving her new-born son at one of Busan’s so-called baby boxes. They’re a real-life mechanism to enable struggling parents to ensure unwanted children find their way into care. But they come with social judgment – ‘You threw your baby away’, So-young will be told on more than one occasion – and in Broker’s world, at least, they’re ripe for exploitation. Sure enough, two adoption brokers, Sang-hyun (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), steal the baby and begin touting him around on their network of wealthy wannabe parents, using their laundrette as a front for their criminal enterprise.
It’s an unlikely scenario – even before So-young, wanted for murder and being trailed by two cops, forms an unlikely alliance with the two baby traffickers – but Koreeda’s warmth and wit make it easy to let it slide. He wants to take you on a journey with a burgeoning family of misfits that’s soon swelled by another young orphan. The quartet, and the young moppet, travel around in a battered van full of dry cleaning from one lot of potential parents to another. It reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine in its easy charm, and there are similar dynamics are at play here: touching bonds slowly forming, life lessons being learnt and some big laughs.
The thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by Song Kang-ho’s Basset Hound charms
The hackneyed thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by the sharpness of the writing and Song’s Basset Hound charms. While Broker occasionally gets close to cloying, especially in its neat ending and jaunty score, Koreeda keeps it the right side of cutesy. It’s best enjoyed as a modern-day fairy tale – only, one where the abandoned baby sparks nothing but enchantment.