Renowned Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first movie in the Korean language introduces us to two of the nicest human traffickers you will ever meet. Broker, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, has been released in theatres with English subtitles. The release comes soon after Kore-eda’s first web series, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maikko House, was premiered on Netflix.
Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-Ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) steal abandoned babies and sell them to families keen on avoiding the lengthy process of adoption. They mean well, this genial duo, hoping to prevent infants from missing the adoption bus and landing up in foster care centres.
When So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her baby behind, undercover police officer Soo-jin (Bae Donna) is watching. Soo-jin keeps close tabs as So-young forms an unlikely alliance with the two brokers. An informal family based on mutual need rather than blood ties takes shape, a bit like in Kore-eda’s celebrated film Shoplifters (2018).
The 129-minute drama is big on platitudes, with characters barely developing in interesting ways. If the baby robbers are fixed early on as do-gooders, So-young is too surly to evoke empathy for what is revealed to be a horrible life. The scrutiny to which she is subjected – par for the course in a film about adoption – ensures a heavy dose of guilt-tripping in a film about a working class subset that can ill-afford conventional morality. The sub-plot revolving around the baby’s parentage beggars belief.
Kore-eda’s trademark empathy for human foibles, while frequently bordering on sentimentality, results in a fair share of affecting scenes in Broker. Many of these revolve around the brilliant Korean actors Song Kang-Ho (Memories of Murder, Parasite) and Bae Doona (The Host, Kingdom). If Song turns on the casual charm, Doona ensures an emotional connection to an overworked and underwritten character.