‘Broker’ Movie Review: Hirokazu Kore-eda Crafts Formidable ‘Shoplifters’ Companion Piece

Broker is an excellent companion piece to writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 Oscar-nominated film Shoplifters. He found other beautiful ways to talk about family, love, and class. Kore-eda doesn’t quite reach the heights of his 2018 Cannes Palme d’Or winner, but Broker continues to show how a master of filmmaking continues to develop what he has to say to the world.

'Broker' 4.0 review graphic

‘Broker’ finds family in unusual places

'Broker' Lee Ji-eun as So-young with her arms resting on the edge of an opened van window from the inside
Lee Ji-eun as So-young | CJ ENM

There are locations with boxes that allow people to anonymously drop off unwanted babies. A young mother named So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her newborn, Woo-sung, at one of these “baby boxes,” but doesn’t realize that there are eyes watching her. Detectives Su-jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) are looking for illegal baby brokers who are working out of the church but need to catch them in the act.

Broker introduces Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who works part-time at the church, and his associate, Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), who runs a laundry business. They’re both strapped for cash, as they use this opportunity to place unwanted kids in a good home in exchange for money. However, they now have two detectives on their tail who plan to put them in jail and end their baby broker operation for good.

Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda sides with his characters

Kore-eda initially instills tension from all angles. So-young leaves a note along with her baby saying that she will return for him, but Dong-soo and Sang-hyeon explain how many parents leave such notes, only to never return. They both judge So-young without knowing her or her hardship, only amplified by the detectives’ preconceived ideas of both the brokers and the mother. Broker introduces a superiority chain, where each party believes that they know better than those they perceive to be beneath them. Kore-eda frequently plays with assumptions made from uninformed, voyeuristic perspectives, painting a fascinating chain of morality.

So-young surprises Dong-soo and Sang-hyeon when she joins forces with them to find the right parents for Woo-sung in exchange for some money. The first act of Broker is matter-of-fact, but it quickly becomes unconventional. The group bonds over their own childhood memories and their hopes for the future over the course of their journey, unleashing some of the darkest secrets from their pasts. However, it’s not long until their deepest demons seek retribution against them, with only one another to rely on.

Broker has a deeply nuanced story, but Kore-eda never allows it to swallow up his characters. Rather, he focuses on their journey and provides each of them agency within the story. Each of these characters is simply trying their best to make their way through life, but they progressively learn what forgiveness means and how to provide it to others, as well as themselves.

‘Broker’ is a winning combination of heart-warming comedy and soul-searching drama

'Broker' Song Kang-ho as Sang-hyeon smiling while sitting behind a sewing machine while wearing glasses
Song Kang-ho as Sang-hyeon | CJ ENM

Broker shares some thematic similarities to Shoplifters, but it’s very much its own feature film. Kore-eda once again demonstrates why he’s an essential voice in this generation’s world cinema discourse, as he wonderfully understands how to craft characters that feel remarkably real to the touch. However, he becomes a bit too narratively ambitious with the detectives over the course of the two-hour runtime, resulting in a bloating effect toward the end of the second act.

Kore-eda is just as impressive behind the camera, bringing gorgeous imagery to the screen. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo brings elegance to the picture, particularly in the delicate rainy shots that serve as the film’s most earnest moments. The performances are seamless from one actor to the next, but Ji-eun Lee’s So-young is the noticeable stand-out, bringing true sincerity that is deep yet subtle.

Kore-eda’s screenplay is a soul-searching drama at its core with something to say about family and judgment, but he gracefully balances it with heart-warming comedy that consistently hits its mark. Broker is a stand-out character study with an endless supply of tenderness.

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