Broker 브로커 Review – Perth Film Festival

There’s an instant familiarity with Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s South Korean drama Broker that creates a supremely comfortable affair. Broker sees Kore-eda working with regular themes that run like streams throughout his work: found families, connection points, youth observing adults and adults being changed by youth. For some, Broker might play like a ‘greatest hits’ package from the acclaimed filmmaker but given Kore-eda’s work includes cinematic pinnacles like Shoplifters, Nobody Knows, and Still Walking, that’s not such a bad album to be spinning.

Song Kang-ho plays Sang-hyeon, leading Broker with a Cannes Best Actor Award winning performance. Sang-hyeon and his friend Dong-soo (an affable Gang Dong-won) operate a dry cleaner, volunteering at a nearby church during the evenings. It’s at this church where they run a human trafficking operation by stealing babies from the church’s baby box (a safe place for the anonymous abandonment of babies), deleting the video record of the ‘deposit’, and then selling the baby on the adoption black market.

One rain-soaked evening, a woman, So-young (Lee Ji-eun), leaves her baby outside the baby box. Observing from a distance are two detectives, Soo-jin (Bae Doona) and Detective Lee (Lee Joo-young), who hang back in wait for the right moment to catch the traffickers in action. After some time, So-young returns only to find that the infant had been taken inside, and unbeknownst to So-young, fallen into the web of Sang-hyeon’s world.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films unfurl with defiantly empathetic mindsets. Where other filmmakers may seek to exploit the trauma of the situation to create heightened drama, Kore-eda is always seeking the humane entry-point for viewers, rarely judging his characters for their actions. If there are villainous figures, they’re often represented by those who have immense wealth or carry a lack of empathy or concern for their fellow citizens.

Song Kang-ho manages to deliver grounded performances that are driven just by the expression in his eyes. His characters are often observant, watching the world, learning and adjusting to the machinations of society. While it’s easy to paint Sang-hyeon as a villain, Kore-eda’s supportive script gives Song Kang-ho the strength to create a weathered and world-weary individual who takes stock of his lot in life, and grows as an individual from his interactions with So-young.

With Broker, Kore-eda plays into the sentimentality of the piece, exploring the yearning for family and connection that each character holds within themselves. Dong-soo tracks down So-young, aiming to find out why exactly she returned when so many mothers don’t. Through their discussions, it’s clear that there is more to So-young’s life, and while she may wish to be a mother in the future, she simply doesn’t have the ability to do so now. As a trio, they embark on a road trip across South Korea, seeking out the best family for So-young’s baby. All the while, the detectives watch on in wait.

For the most part, characters judge or criticise So-young for ‘abandoning’ or ‘throwing away’ her son, with many struggling to understand why a mother would leave her child. With Soo-jin, there’s almost a vendetta against So-young and Sang-hyeon for what they do, and with the child’s safety at the front of her mind, she spits the word ‘abandoned’ around with anger. As her observations of So-young continue, her understanding of the situation increases, and as such, her vitriol subsides away. In an audacious moment, Kore-eda nods to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia as Soo-jin hears Aimee Mann’s Wise Up on the radio, playing it to her partner.

A core line from Magnolia comes from Jeremy Blackman’s Stanley Spector who says “this is something that happens,” and it’s that nod to Magnolia that has Kore-eda saying to his audience ‘remove the headlines and the alarmed news articles from the situation, and recognise the humanity behind this world’.

Ultimately, Broker is about how people grow and change through difficult situations. It plays like a perfect companion piece to Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, both films that show how sometimes it’s found families that are the best of them all. There’s a welcome sentimentality to his films that washes over you as the story envelopes your senses, with Broker leading to a calmative scene that splits open the tears that you have been holding in throughout the film. This yet another grand entry in an already esteemed career from one of the finest working filmmakers today.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Ji-eun, Gang Dong-won

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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