2023, R, 129 min. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Jan. 13, 2023
The one thing you can count on with a Hirokazu Kore-eda movie is consistency. The director of Our Little Sister and Shoplifters has made the same “create your own family” melodrama so many times, and yet each one is as heartbreaking, uplifting, and beautiful as the last.
With Broker, Kore-eda moves his production to South Korea, working with the likes of Bae Doona (star of his 2009 sci-fi drama Air Doll) again, as well as some new faces, including Bong Joon-ho’s favorite leading man Song Kang-ho (Parasite, Memories of Murder), who won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance in the film. Here he plays Sang-hyeon, a launderette owner who sells babies who are abandoned in a church’s baby box on the adoption black market with his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won, Peninsula). A wrench is thrown into their perfect scheme when the mother of one of the babies, So-young (Lee Ji-eun), immediately turns around to take back her baby, discovering their business and also learning that their motivations are not quite as selfish as they come across.
The charm of Kore-eda’s films is the layering of complex characters, and he puts a lot of heart and time into each of them, sculpting intricate emotions and relationships that connect with the viewer. His films feel like classics in that way, never relying on overdramatic moments to cheapen the weight that each of Broker’s characters carry. What makes Kore-eda’s work so effortless is his sympathy for characters like Sang-hyeon, Dong-soo, and So-young – people who on the surface level appear to be doing despicable things, but have very deeply connected and complicated feelings that justify their actions.
Lee Ji-eun, more popularly known by her K-pop stage name IU, is really the glue that binds Broker together. Caught in the middle of Sang-hyeon’s underground bid to sell her child and the two detectives trying to bust this case – Soo-jin (Doona) and her sidekick Detective Lee (Lee Joo-young, Itaewon Class) – Ji-eun as So-young brings deep nuance to a young mother who only wants the best for her child. One of the most beautiful scenes in the film is between her and Dong-soo on a Ferris wheel, which displays a stunning vulnerability that elevates Kore-eda’s material, giving it immense depth that shifts the film from classic Kore-eda to tremendous direction.
Kore-eda’s nonjudgmental approach to all his films is what makes him such an enticing auteur, and with Broker he brings what he excels at to a new destination with an all-star South Korean cast that really understands his material and delicate subtleties. If it’s not broken, why fix it?