Kore-eda Hirokazu re-explores the meaning of family in his latest Korean drama Broker. The feature film, starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Doona Bae, Lee Ji-eun aka IU and Lee Joo-young, won two awards at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the Ecumenical Jury Award and the Best Actor Award for Song Kang-ho. Broker revolves around a young woman who gives up her baby and finds herself going with the two brokers who want to sell the child to a wealthy couple to raise. (Read also: Cannes full list of winners: Swedish Triangle of Sadness wins Palme d’Or, India’s All that Breathes is best documentary)
This is the Japanese filmmaker’s second feature film not in his native language, following the 2019 French drama The Truth (La Vérité). With the help of a South Korean cast, the moving drama puts together a strange group committed to the well-being of a baby. The result is a gripping piece that manages to tug at the heartstrings. Lee Ji-eun plays young mother Moon So-young who thinks she is dropping off her baby Woo-sung at a family church in Busan, only to find him in the hands of two real estate agents.
Parasite star Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won as the brokers convince her to come with them to make the exchange. But as anyone can predict, fate has something else in store for them, especially since two female police officers are lurking in hopes of catching them in the act. And as the characters slowly form into a makeshift family, each looking for another, you watch helplessly, knowing that a happy ending will not be possible for all of them.
Kore-eda has explored these family ties between strangers in his previous films from Like Father, Like Son (2013) to Shoplifters (2018). In each of these award-winning feature films, the filmmaker once again shows that blood is not the only factor that connects families. It’s those who care about you and have your back when the chips are down that ultimately define family in them.
Broker is no different. Each of the main characters has broken relationships with their families. A few of them are actual orphans, with residual feelings of resentment towards their parents who abandoned them. As the film progresses, the characters spend more time together traveling from city to city to find suitable parents for Woo-sung. They slowly open up to each other after Dong-soo, Gang Dong-won’s character, geniusly proclaims, “This car is full of liars.”
But even though they have the best of intentions for another, bigger real life problems loom for them, with murder and debt, which may not be so easy to get around. The cast, especially the stars Song Kang-ho and Lee Ji-eun, provide the emotional scenes. Even Im Seung-soo, who plays the young orphan Hae-jin, and the baby Woo-sung manage to leave their mark.
Broker also questions some of the bigger issues around adoption and orphanages, with a bit of dark humor and a lot of honesty. For many of them there are no easy answers. But the Korean film’s devastating ending will take some time to process. In a way, it reminded me of another Korean movie Parasite (2019) where certain characters’ arcs end in uncertainty. The movie is sentimental as it allows some characters to heal, but also heartbreaking where it leaves others. If you enjoyed Kore-eda Hirokazu’s previous work, don’t miss this latest nuanced drama.