BROKER (2022)

One-line review: An abandoned baby rescues many adults.

The film has you at hello; I am referring to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-ada’s charming greeting before the movie begins thanking the audience and the actors. Broker is his first South Korean movie (he also wrote it). After his acclaimed “Shoplifters,” Kore-ada revisits the theme of families not connected by blood.     

The film begins with a young mother, Moon So-young (Lee Ji-un), heartbrokenly abandoning her baby in a baby box at a church, promising him she will return. The two employee friends inside, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) and his older partner Ha Sang-Hyeon (Song Kang-ho), are brokers who sell these abandoned children to wealthy parents. Although they do this to make extra money, they believe they are helping these babies find good homes by cutting through the red tape. 

Unknown to them, they are being watched and followed by detective Soo-jin (Bae Donna) and her partner Detective Lee (Lee Joo-young), who wants to catch them red-handed during a sale. To complicate matters, the mother returns the next day to claim the baby, forcing the brokers to reveal their plans so she won’t turn them over to the cops. She becomes an accomplice since she is hiding a terrible secret and cannot keep the baby. 

The rest of the film follows the brokers’ trips with the mother to various clients in their rickety van with the detectives hot on their heels. The detectives who also manage to wiretap the brokers are taken aback that these brokers are not mere mercenaries; they care for the baby and are discerning about who adopts him. The brokers even risk getting caught rushing the baby to the hospital when it becomes sick. The film gently but overtly nudges the audience to question our assumptions. Are these brokers criminals or social workers? Are mothers who abandon their babies heartless or martyrs who want their babies to have a better life? Is blood thicker than water? 

Kore-ada’s mastery is evident in his plotting; the multiple storylines interweave cleanly and clearly. His Pollyannish worldview is so sincere that we are game for the film’s over-the-top happy ending. Noted music composer Jung Jae-il ‘s bold piano strokes at unexpected and during mundane scenes somehow fit perfectly and elevate this commoner’s story to operatic levels. 

Song Kang-ho is reliable as ever as the older Broker with a heart. Although the film offers him many moments to display his acting chops, the scene that stood out for me was a flash-in-the-pan scene where he is merrily humming while pedaling away at his sewing machine (he’s a tailor in the film). Only a master can deliver with that level of finesse. The rest of the cast is also solid. Gang Dong-won is charming as the younger Broker and gives the film its sweetness; he’s a giver despite life’s hard knocks. Lee Ji-un is believable as the young mother toughened by the streets but still soft underneath. Little Im Seung-soo, who plays Hae-jin, the orphan who forces himself on the Brokers, gives the film levity when the plot thickens.  The incessant snacking bordering on food porn by the bored cops watching the brokers is another cheeky little touch. The serious and thin-as-rails lady cops are the last people you would associate with a snacking addiction.

On-screen, Broker is a road trip that changes many lives forever. But you leave hoping facts are stranger than fiction for orphans worldwide.      

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