- Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
- Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
- Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young, Bae Doona, Im Seung-soo
They say that you never truly know what love feels like until you’ve had a child, so what happens when you have a child that you don’t love? This is the central question to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker, the Japanese auteur’s first film set in Korea, which still manages to feel of a whole with his filmography at large.
Specifically, Broker feels like a spiritual sequel to Kore-eda’s 2018 Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters in the way it deals with the themes of family and abandonment. Both films bring together misfits and outcasts to bond over their commonalities without dipping into sentimentality or schmaltz. But Shoplifters is more taut in its goals, leaner and more focused with what it wants to say. That’s not to say that Kore-eda has lost his touch; this is an excellent screenplay overall, despite a few nitpicks here and there.
Motherhood, or parenthood, is a subject that can easily lead to stereotypes or shortcuts in films, but Broker contains no easy answers. The title of the film comes from the occupations of Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), two platonic partners who find adoptive parents of babies that are abandoned by their mothers in drop boxes. The film doesn’t shy away from the moral dilemma that this brings to light, and it leads to some rich character development and dialogue. Especially when So-young (Lee Ji-eun) drops off her infant son at the drop box and has a change of heart. She tags along with Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo to make sure the baby goes to the right family – and to get a cut of the large payday they’re expecting.
The bulk of the film is a kind of family road-trip adventure as they go from one potential buyer to the next. Hot on their trail is a pair of female police officers looking to bust the illegal traffickers. This element of the film takes the longest to gel together, but Kore-eda smartly manages to make it feel cohesive. That’s not to say that Broker isn’t without its hiccups; there’s an extra subplot or two that could be taken out without much lost, but Kore-eda thankfully doesn’t let them take up too much oxygen. In the end, Broker is a film that’s all about the choices we make to protect the ones we love. Still, the revelations that come to light about the main quartet come about in natural, unexpected ways, and I already find myself wanting to revisit the film to fully bask in every twist and turn that’s brought about.
Despite the ensemble nature of the film, it’s Song Kang-ho that gives the standout performance here – though I do find it curious that he won the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes. The character never gets any spotlight-worthy emotional scenes, but Song brings such warmth and humor to the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his spot.
Technically speaking, Broker is similarly lovely. There may not be as many awe-inspiring shots to point to, but Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography feels very much like a continuation of his stellar work on Parasite. And, as if there wasn’t enough Parasite crossover, Jung-Jae-il’s vibrant piano and guitar-heavy score provides a nice undercurrent for the drama.
I spoke with another critic as we walked out of the screening, and we both struggled to think of other films to easily compare Broker to – which is saying something, because he’s much smarter and has seen a lot more movies than me. Kore-eda may not garner as much attention on the world cinema stage as some of his contemporaries, but Broker proves that he’s in a class of his own, making wonderful, smart films that almost defy classification.
Broker was viewed as a Special Presentation screening at the Heartland International Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures will release the film on December 26.
- South Korea has already announced that Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave will be its selection for Best International Feature, so Broker‘s chances are slim.
- Song Kang-ho won the Best Actor prize at Cannes and, while there could be an open slot for him as a Best Actor nominee, the likelihood is unfortunately small – even as a kind of “career achievement” nomination.