Broker Review: Kore-Eda Returns With Another Moving Drama About Found Families [Cannes]

Hirokazu Kore-eda makes his return to filmmaking after three years with "Broker," a film that continues his long tradition of movies about found families in all shapes and sizes learning how to live rather than just survive. This is a road-trip drama that is part "Little Miss Sunshine," part "Raising Arizona," while being inherently a Kore-eda joint, complete with yet another devastating finale.

For his Korean-language debut, Kore-eda sets his sights on "baby boxes," essentially a hatch on the side of a wall in a Busan church where mothers can safely and anonymously leave their infants behind. One of the reasons the boxes have become popular since their introduction in 2007 is that Korean law dictates a child cannot be adopted if the biological mother doesn't register the child with the proper authorities.

"Broker" follows one such mother, So-young (Lee Ji Eun), who decides to abandon her baby, Woo-sung. The problem is that she also leaves the baby with a note saying she will return for him, but no name or contact information with it. Because of the note, Woo-sung cannot be legally adopted and must spend his life in an orphanage. That is, of course, until laundry shop owner Sang-hyun (an always charismatic and charming Song Kang-ho) and a baby box worker Dong-soo (Gang Gong-won) decide to steal the baby, erase proof he was ever here, and sell it to the highest-paying desperate parents who have tried and failed to go through the country's complicated and unwelcoming adoption laws.

A movie about found families

Kore-eda carefully avoids painting Sang-hyun and Dong-soo as dangerous or calculated criminals. Sure, what they are doing is technically human trafficking, and they are the center of an investigation by two cops, Su-jin (Bae Doona) and Lee (Lee Joo-young), who want to catch them in the act, but they are not bad people. Instead, Kore-eda focuses on their intentions rather than their actions, as Sang-hyun says when we first meet him, he is "protecting" the child, not stealing him. It is easy to root for these two given how much they genuinely care about giving Woo-sung a good home, one that they know he won't get by going through the legal systems.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans, because this one gets instantly derailed when So-young suddenly shows up looking for her baby. After discovering the hefty sum the two brokers are getting for wee baby Woo-sung, she decides to join them on a road trip to find a new home for her son and also get a cut of the cash, since it's her baby and all. After picking up one more stray orphan on the way, the five travel across Korea and slowly open up to each other as they form their own makeshift family.

While Song delivers an impossibly charming and sweet performance, and Gang has some poignant moments as he talks about having been abandoned as a child, it is Lee Ji-eun who steals the show as the emotionally reserved and devastating So-young. The best emotional moments of the film come from seeing So-young slowly opening up to her partners in crime, before immediately shutting off again due to her own troubled past (and present).

A movie about life

Of course, other than the sweet found family aspect of the film, "Broker" plays differently in light of recent news about abortion rights in the U.S. It would be easy to consider this film as some sort of statement on abortion, as Kore-eda essentially ignores that debate except for a single line towards the end. Instead, his interest lies entirely within those children who have been left behind, those who struggle to accept their place amongst the living. 

This is not really a pro-life film, but one that looks at children who have already been born but don't think they should have, "Broker" is a prayer in the form of a movie, a desperate cry of reassurance to tell people everywhere that no matter their upbringing or circumstance, it is okay for them to be here. Like with most of his filmography, Kore-eda chooses to keep the visuals minimalistic, with the camera serving as a fly on the wall to bring the audience into this intimate story. Likewise, Jung Jae-il's minimalistic melodies are quiet for most of the film, so the music has an even bigger impact once it starts playing. Still, the tone doesn't always work, with Kore-eda never fully figuring out how to integrate a subplot involving two cops, which just makes the film feel way too long.

"Broker" is another showcase of empathy from Kore-eda, a movie about found families and finding a home with each other, about the small acts of kindness that can truly mean the world to someone. Though its tone doesn't always work and its runtime is excessive, it is an emotionally devastating and life-reaffirming movie that is hard not to sympathize with.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10

"Broker" premiered as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2022.