Selling children is fine if you have good intentions in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s delightful and surprisingly heart-warming drama.
If there’s any one word that can be used to sum up most of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work it’s probably “family”. From his first theatrical movie Maborosi to his Oscar-nominated – and arguably most famous – Shoplifters, Kore-eda has been investigating what constitutes such an institution. In Shoplifters (a film I swear I’ve reviewed but doesn’t seem to feature on the site), Kore-eda delved into the concept of a found family, and told the very touching story of a couple of crooks and the kids they found all working and living together as an unconventional but loving family unit. In 2022, he did kind of the same thing, but this time in Korea.
Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) are two men who volunteer at the local church’s Baby Box – an anonymous spot for women to leave their unwanted children. From time to time, they take one of these kids for themselves, with the purpose of selling them to potential adopting parents who, for whatever reason, have been rejected by the system. One night, a distraught mother named So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her child at the church, and the two guys plan to sell it. However, So-young returns for the baby, and when she learns of the men’s plan, decides to go with them to find the most suitable parent for the child. Unbeknownst to them, the group is also being tailed by two cops (Lee Joo-young and Bae Doona).
It’s probably a bit of an understatement to say that human trafficking as a concept is something of a pretty big deal. While the crime in Shoplifters is minor, at worst, and largely victimless Kore-eda has to work a lot harder to make the key concept of Broker work as well as it does. I was impressed to see how well the direction was, for a film in a language foreign to the director (though this wouldn’t be the first time he’s done this – and the 2019 French film The Truth also worth checking out). That he’s able to make something truly charming from this story is a testament to his abilities – and to the innate charisma of his cast – and that he’s able to introduce a kid character partway through who actually adds to the experience is nothing short of a minor miracle.
The general tone of the movie is light, which certainly helps, but it doesn’t shy away from more difficult topics. There’s richness to be found in the breadth of character opinions: topics that show up include what makes a good parent, what our responsibilities should be, and it even delves into the dreaded subject of abortion, even if it doesn’t dwell there too long. At times, it does feel like Broker has one too many things happening. The side story, where the baby’s grandmother tries to have him brought to her and “raised” seems almost entirely unnecessary, other than to make Sang-hyeon and his crew a touch more sympathetic.
Nevertheless, it all contributes to a delicate balance that Kore-eda effortlessly delivers. It never fails to show us which side of the law the main characters are on, though it does emphasise that they’re the good human traffickers (and the extra cash doesn’t hurt either). The cops’ constant presence reminds us of this. And to help matters Song, Gang and Lee have wonderful chemistry together, bolstered all the more when Im Seung-soo’s orphan character Hae-jin shows up to add to their dynamic. In the end, don’t be put off by its logline. In Kore-eda’s own words: It’s the most charming film about selling children you’ll likely see.
Verdict: Broker’s sometimes thin story might get overly bloated whenever it tries to remedy the situation, but thanks to some fantastic direction and a colourful cast of loveable scamps it comes out as one of the best Korean films of 2022.
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Characters who aren’t orphans: Two? Ish
Average baby price: Between 8 and 10 million
Deal breaker: Too thin eyebrows, for sure
Sang-hyeon: That makes two films in recent years that end with Song Kang-ho going into hiding
Also known as: 브로커
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Song Kang-ho – Sang-hyeon
Gang Dong-won – Dong-soo
Lee Ji-eun – So-young
Im Seung-soo – Hae-jin
Bae Doona – Soo-jin
Lee Joo-young – Detective Lee
Lim Ju-hwan – Han Sung-ho
Park Ji-yong – Woo-sung