Broker is a great companion to writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 Oscar-nominated film Shoplifters. He found other beautiful ways to talk about family, love and class. Kore-eda doesn’t quite reach the heights of her Palme d’Or at Cannes 2018, but Broker continues to show how a master of cinema continues to develop what he has to say to the world.
A “broker” finds his family in unusual places
There are places with boxes that allow people to drop off unwanted babies anonymously. A young mother named So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her newborn, Woo-sung, in one of these “baby boxes,” but doesn’t realize there are eyes watching her. are watching. Detectives Su-jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) seek out illegal baby brokers who work outside the church but have to catch them red-handed.
Broker introduces Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who works part-time at the church, and his business partner, Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), who runs a laundry business. They are both short of money, as they take advantage of this opportunity to place unwanted children in a good home in exchange for money. However, they now have two detectives hot on their trail who plan to put them in jail and end their baby broker operation for good.
Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda sides with his characters
Kore-eda initially infuses tension from all angles. So-young leaves a note with her baby saying she will come back for him, but Dong-soo and Sang-hyeon explain how many parents leave such notes, never to return. They both judge So-young unaware of her struggles, only amplified by the detectives’ preconceptions about the brokers and the mother. Broker introduces a chain of superiority, where each side believes they know better than those they perceive to be below them. Kore-eda frequently plays with assumptions made from uninformed and voyeuristic perspectives, painting a fascinating string of morality.
So-young surprises Dong-soo and Sang-hyeon when she joins forces with them to find the right parents for Woo-sung in exchange for some money. The first act of Broker is down-to-earth, but it quickly becomes unconventional. The group bond with their own childhood memories and hopes for the future on their journey, revealing some of the darkest secrets from their past. However, it doesn’t take long before their innermost demons seek revenge on them, only being able to rely on each other.
Broker has a deeply nuanced story, but Kore-eda never allows it to engulf its characters. Rather, it focuses on their journey and provides each of them with agency in the story. Each of these characters is simply doing their best to make their way through life, but they gradually learn what forgiveness means and how to give it to others, as well as to themselves.
‘Broker’ is a winning combination of heartwarming comedy and introspective drama
Broker shares some thematic similarities with Shoplifters, but it’s really its own feature film. Kore-eda once again demonstrates why he is a vital voice in this generation’s global cinema discourse, as he has a wonderful understanding of how to create characters that feel remarkably real to the touch. However, it gets a little too narratively ambitious with the sleuths over the two-hour runtime, resulting in a bloated effect towards the end of the second act.
Kore-eda is equally impressive behind the camera, bringing gorgeous images to the screen. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo brings elegance to the image, especially in the delicate rainy shots that make up the film’s more serious moments. The performances are consistent from cast to cast, but Ji-eun Lee’s So-young is the standout star, bringing a deep yet subtle genuine sincerity.
Kore-eda’s script is an introspective drama at its core with something to say about family and judgment, but it balances it gracefully with heartwarming comedy that consistently hits its mark. Broker is a remarkable character study with an endless supply of tenderness.
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