Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda returns to some recently treaded waters in both plot and theme with his South Korean drama Broker. While the comparisons to his Palme d’Or winning film Shoplifters (2018) are undeniable, he manages to create something fully unique and wonderful despite the similarities.
Broker much like Shoplifters revolves around an abandoned child as its inciting incident. So-young (Ji-eun Lee) is a young woman who leaves her baby Woo-sung in a baby box at a church, an actual thing in which one abandons babies in South Korea, where he is found by Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho best known for his role in 2019’s Parasite) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won). The two men instead of processing the baby into the church’s orphanage, delete the footage of the drop off and take the baby home to sell on the black market.
In a slight change of feeling, So-young returns to the church to see her baby but finds it not there. Ha Sang-hyeon out of a sense of obligation tells So-young where her Woo-sung is and that he intends on selling him. They agree to do so as a team, splitting the money 50/50, and set out on a trip to a potential buyer.
Unbeknownst to the three brokers, two police officers Soo-jin (Bae Doona) and detective Lee (Lee Joo-young) know about the intent to traffic the young baby and follow the group on their journey to catch them in the act.
Throughout the rest of the film, Broker continues to layer on additionally plot points to build tension for the group of would-be criminals. This crescendos in intensity, but without ever overshadowing the small personal revelations of the characters that are the primary selling point of the film.
Another way in which Broker mirrors Shoplifters is in its examination of what makes a family and especially the power that can exist in non-traditional families. So-young and Dong-soo both grew up without a traditional family and have resorted to less than legal means to sustain themselves in their adult lives because of this lack of foundation. San-hyeon on the other hand has an ex-wife and daughter that he feels bad about not being a part of their life. All three brokers have every reason to be jaded about they concept of family, yet together they find a sense of belonging.
It is clear that they have not been completely disillusioned by the concept of family based on their pickiness in selling off Woo-sung. Finding a loving family for the baby none of them can take care of is of primary importance, the cash payment while still essential to them is only secondarily so.
Koreeda’s films always take place in the moments between what little action there is, and this remains true even in Broker’s slightly more active plotline. The tension in wondering if the brokers will get caught by the following police is interesting, but nothing compares to the meticulous work he puts into the dialogue between characters. They slowly reveal themselves to each other and by proxy the audience as a way of revealing universal truths.