Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film, Broker, was in competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Ecumenical Jury Award and the Best Actor Award for Song Kang-ho. During the French kermesse the film received a standing ovation from the audience for 12 minutes.
The story is set in Seoul and it begins with the abandonment of a newborn in a baby box, that is part of a religious initiative to rescue unwanted infants. Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is the owner of a laundry and volunteers at the nearby church, where his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) works. The two run an illegal business together, stealing the orphan babies and deleting the church’s surveillance footage to remove all proof that they were left there, to be able to sell them on the adoption black market. However, when a young mother So-young (Lee Ji-eun) comes back after having abandoned her baby, she discovers them and decides to join them on a road trip to interview the baby’s potential parents. Through it all, the henchmen of a boss of the underworld who are also interested in the newborn, are on their trail, as well as two detectives, Soo-jin (Bae Doona) and Lee (Lee Joo-young), who are determined to arrest them.
Kore-eda’s latest work follows several themes he had explored in his previous films. For instance the topic of parenthood in Like Father, Like Son, and the condition of being social outcasts in Shoplifters. Unconventional families are portrayed once again, with a veiled homage to the Western film directed by John Ford, 3 Godfathers, and its Japanese animated remake, Tokyo Godfathers, written and directed by Satoshi Kon. Just like in these films three outcasts on the run develop a friendship that develops into a strong kinship. They become a family and the spontaneous bond is exceptionally captivating for the minimalism adopted by the storytelling, where the characters’ emotions are never accentuated, but rather restrained. The style remains steadfast and focused on the unspoken words and the coy exchange of glances.
For the Japanese director family is not a schematic and fixed concept. It needs not a priori rules and predicaments. It is something ever-changing that can be moulded and chiseled in what we make of it. Perspectives and dynamics can morph, as long as love is the glue that holds different individuals together. In Broker, the subject matter of kith and kin doesn’t find a truly compelling approach to keep audiences hooked. It touches for the way it questions the possibilities of an extended family that can be stronger than lineage, yet it plays a familiar tune that we’ve already witnessed throughout Kore-eda’s filmography. The topic is old news, although it’s always current.
Nevertheless the Japanese director manages to brilliantly weld surrealism with existentialism by investigating the infinite implications of family bonds through a rather paradoxical situation. The complexity of being a parent and dealing with the consequences arising from one’s mistakes returns in a new way. Despite misfits and parenting are Kore-eda’s leitmotivs, Broker marks a first for the Nipponic filmmaker: writing and directing a Korean-language film and constructing a hyper-kinetic motion picture where characters are continuously on the move. Hence, abandonment and progenitorship are confronted in a novel manner, to portray how selflessness and affection may overcome any obstacle. The charming factor that remains is how the lines between villains and heroes get blurred, showing us all how we are defined by infinite shades of grey, especially when it comes to the preconceptions of common morality.
Final Grade: B-