'Broker' Unboxes Found Families

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Lee Ji-eun, Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures

BY Matthew Simpson Published Dec 28, 2022

What makes a family? This is the question on Hirokazu Kore-eda's mind lately. As with his 2018 Palme D'or-winning film Shoplifters, Broker attempts to answer that question by examining a most unlikely found family: a group of people brought together via human trafficking.

That might sound sensational, but the film concentrates its characters around a so-called "baby box," a place where mothers can leave infants that they either can't or won't care for. Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), a laundromat owner, and his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who volunteers at the church where the baby box is, occasionally scoop up dropped-off babies and sell them on the black market for a tidy sum. This time things are complicated by the infant's mother, Moon So-young (Lee Ji-eun), who returns after a day to reclaim her child and ends up going on a road trip with these men to interview potential parents for her child.

Song, it deserves to be said, is one of the finest actors working today. It won't come as a surprise to anyone who has seen his recent work — whether Parasite or Snowpiercer or any of his other half-dozen films that didn't make a big splash in North America – that he can do more with a shift of facial expression than many could with an entire monologue. He employs this with great effect in his performance as Ha Sang-hyeon, a broken man with deep-seated melancholy that slowly gets examined as the film progresses. It is shocking that Song isn't in the awards conversation in North America, given that his performance in Broker already won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

Gang and Bae Doona are both also excellent. Each of their characters (the latter being a police officer on the trail of the makeshift family) are closer to the situation than they first appear, and both of their performances are deeply felt.

However, the real standout in Broker is Lee. Her turn as Moon So-young is exceptional, conveying the character's inner turmoil with nuance and empathy, especially when facing what she could or could not have done, or more importantly, considering whether she deserves it.

And that is the film's thrust in a nutshell: not only what makes a family, but who deserves one. Kore-eda is so good with his performers that the answers are largely left unspoken (but not necessarily unclear). Unfortunately, this is also the main area where the film falters as the director's light touch combined with the film's runtime (two hours and nine minutes) may make it difficult for some audiences to connect with it.

Still, this is a minor complaint. Admittedly, the story does meander, but this gives it a chance to unfold more organically and deliver a more impactful ending than if it had been rushed at any point. That ending and how Kore-eda answers the film's central questions make Broker a notable entry in the filmographies of both Kore-eda and 2022, and one worth seeking out.

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