‘Broker’ is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Most High-Stakes, And Perhaps Most Heart-Breaking, Tale of Belonging – Film Review

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Picturehouse Entertainment

Hirokazu Kore-eda is a director renowned for his uplifting and simultaneously devastating stories of belonging, identity and legacy. Whether it’s common thieves, estranged sisters or struggling fathers, his films are endlessly empathetic windows onto characters trying, often in vain, to escape desperate situations and the families they find along the way. A powerhouse in its own right, Broker thrives on tour de force performances from long-time collaborator Bae Doona, a newcomer to the big screen K-Pop Idol IU (Lee Ji-eun), and a Cannes award-winning Song Kang Ho. Take note, you’ll probably want to bring some tissues.

On a rainy night, a young woman (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her baby outside a baby box – receptacles in South Korea to anonymously leave unwanted babies. But instead of being taken into the foster system, Sang-hyeon (Song Kang Ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-Won) take the baby themselves to sell to a wealthy couple across the country. But when mother So-young returns for her child the next day, they reveal their plan and recruit her to find a new family for her baby Woo-sung (Park Ji-yong). They depart Busan, but on their tail are two detectives (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) bent on exposing their scheme.

So much of this film is about judgment. Several of Kore-eda’s films have touched upon fathers and their difficulty grappling with parenthood, but this is perhaps the first time we’ve seen him tackle a story where it’s the mother who isn’t immediately ready to be a parent and one that vehemently highlights the additional criticism women face as a result. While the concept of baby boxes may feel alien to those in the West initially, many of the themes and issues at play are instantly recognisable as prejudices women and global children face globally. And we do on the baby boxes or any judgements on this system for very long at all – we’re pretty quickly whisked away to Sang-Hyeon’s drycleaners and the plot; it’s a proverbial shut up and listen.

Picturehouse Entertainment

The captivation of South-East Asian cinema (from a Western perspective, of course) is often its quiet scenes, and Kore-eda is a filmmaker who treasures these. Moments are distilled in front of the viewer: standing by a morning window, feeling raindrops fall from the guttering; hand-mending a button on a shirt while an impatient child fidgets beside you; taking a loved one’s call in your car with the radio playing softly while you try, desperately, to tell them something you can’t put into words. The mundaneness around the characters elevates his stories into magic, making it no wonder that the director is so adept at working with children. He understands the things they fixate on that become larger than life and sacred even into adulthood. Trust me, ferris wheels and car washes will never look the same again.

Kore-eda is a director you almost don’t see on the screen. His actors and frames set themselves up; they are so naturally there, and yet the effort, yet skill to do that flawlessly are only achieved by those at the top of their game. Broker is almost a new take on the director’s thematic style where, instead of centring on a child’s experience in an adult world, the film revolves directly around those dedicating themselves to this baby. Kore-eda’s adults always have complicated histories – they are human, after all – but trafficking, homicide and kidnapping are among the most extreme of his filmography. So how do you tell a story of a mother who gives up her child and the people who try to sell him to wealthy families where no one is a villain?

In retrospect, Broker is perhaps less understated than many of Kore-eda’s films; the plot is more direct, and its turns are far from mundane. Yet it still captures the piercing honesty – and consequential comfort – of a Kore-eda classic. The ending, which the director was still agonising over during the shoot, confiding in Song Kang Ho of his anxieties, is bittersweet as always. But it’s undeniable that he landed on the perfect last note.

Broker releases in UK cinemas on 24th February

by Daisy Leigh-Phippard

Daisy (she/her) studied film production at Arts University Bournemouth and freelances in the industry with the aspiration of becoming a director and screenwriter. A lover of independent and foreign film with female perspectives, her favourites include Pan’s LabyrinthThe HandmaidenFrida and anything that has ever come out of Hayao Miyazaki’s brain. You can see her work on her website and follow her on TwitterLetterboxd and Instagram.

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