Hirokazu Kore-eda has a reputation for tenderness in his films. The Japanese director of Shoplifters (2018) – about a family living in poverty in Tokyo, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes – and Like Father, Like Son (2013) – about a father whose son was switched at birth, and won the Jury Prize – has a gentle sensibility and a god-given instinct for where to place his camera.
So it may seem odd that his latest film is focused on two human traffickers, a sex worker and the female detectives on their trail.
But Broker, set in the world of South Korean “baby boxes”, is not a seedy tale of criminality. It is one of redemption, of broken, patched-up, limping makeshift families under duress.
So-young (Lee Ji-eun), a sex worker, drops her infant at one of the notorious “baby boxes”, where children can be safely left by young mothers who have nowhere else to turn.
A laundry worker-turned-baby trafficker, played by the expressive Song Kang-ho (star of Parasite), and his partner in crime Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) have taken it upon themselves to rush the “adoption” process by selling babies on the black market.
But when So-young returns to see what has become of her baby, the three form a strange friendship, each outside traditional morality and the law and nonetheless on a journey to achieve a positive outcome for the child.
As the trio pick up strays and are chased by two cops along the way (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young), the results are slapstick, darkly funny, and then abruptly high stakes, when we are reminded all over again of the baby’s future that is in possible peril.
Broker will continue the international interest in South Korean cinema, which has exploded since the success of Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite – this film shares its star and cinematographer.
It is a beautiful, oddball, deeply humane drama that tells us it is always worth trying to forge a family, even when risking a tragic emotional fallout.