Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Distributed by: Neon
Written by Michael Clawson
After a refreshing if not entirely successful stopover in France for “The Truth,” “Broker” marks a thematic and geographic retreat to more familiar territory for Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda. Set in South Korea, this tender drama bears a more than passing resemblance to Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” as a story about the families that we make for ourselves versus those that we are given. It’s a kind and often lovely movie, but one that also feels like a fairly safe bet for Kore-eda.
Hot off of his role as the family patriarch in Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” Song Kang-Ho again fills a father-type role in “Broker” as Sang-hyeon, a divorced man who runs a small laundry shop while also making extra money on the side through shadier business. Together with his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who works at the church where Sang-hyeon volunteers, the two men will occasionally sneak an infant out of the church’s “baby box” – a place for women to anonymously surrender newborns, no explanation required – and sell the infant to would-be parents on the black market. “Broker” becomes a road movie when a young mother, So-young (Lee Ji-eun), unexpectedly returns for a baby that Dang-soo and Sang-hyeon have taken, and the trio begin a search for parents who So-young believes will love her little boy as their own.
For a movie that hinges on the act of child trafficking, “Broker” is far from harrowing. Dong-soo and Sang-hyeon register as flawed but kind men rather than heinous criminals, and none of the potential buyers they meet with are vile. Similarly, Kore-eda holds no judgment towards So-young and her decision to abandon her newborn; on the contrary, his compassion for her, as for all his characters, is clear and moving. Even in his handling of the risk that hangs over his protagonist’s head – Dong-soo, Sang-hyeon, and So-young are trailed by two detectives – Kore-eda opts for a tone of calm melancholy over a sense of real danger.
Visually, “Broker” is finely understated. Kore-eda is never one to overdress his compositions, and his humanism comes through in the gentleness of his camera’s gaze. The performances are wonderful too, particularly Lee’s as she imbues So-young with heartache and despair. But as an entry in Kore-eda’s larger body of work, “Broker” never takes a direction, formally or narratively, that represents a breaking of new ground. Maybe that’s okay, but after “The Truth” marked a willingness in Kore-eda to try something a little different, “Broker” comes off as risk-averse.