Original title or aka: Beurokeo

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Song Kang Ho, Gang Dong Won, Bae Doona and Lee Ji Eun
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 129 mins. Reviewed in Mar 2023
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes and coarse language

This South Korean drama is about a man and his friend who run an illegal business selling babies left at their Church by mothers who don’t want them – but they always look for suitable parents.

The movie is set in Busan City, South Korea, and competed for honours at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. The Festival gave its Best Actor award to Song Kang-ho, who takes the lead role. The film was also awarded the Festival’s Ecumenical Prize for its respect and reflection of family values. An ecumenical jury is charged to assesses unity in diversity, and to confront the frustrations, difficulties and issues that exist in a modern pluralistic world. Such a film attempts to communicate a spiritual dimension to human existence, and addresses Christian unity, justice, and peace. This film is decidedly pro-life, and richly deserves the ecumenical award it has received.

In the film, Ha Sang-Hyun (Song Kang-ho) runs a laundry business in South Korea, and is a volunteer helper at his nearby church in Busan City. He is constantly in financial debt, and to survive, he takes babies who are left in his church’s “baby box”. With the help of his friend, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who grew up in an orphanage after being abandoned, they try to find parents to look after the infants they take. The “baby-box” is an illegitimate means whereby people anonymously leave children they don’t want to be adopted. Ha Sang-Hyun and Dong-soo are taking the infants who are dropped off by mothers who cannot care for them and sell them on the black market to people who want a baby, and who are happy to care for a rejected child. They look for people they think suitable to look after the babies, and they describe themselves as “brokers of good will”.

A baby left in the “baby box” is detected by means of the surveillance footage taken by camera, so Dong-soo deletes the footage that indicates the baby was stolen. Selling babies for adoption on the black market is considered human trafficking and is a criminal offence. The parents who do not want the babies still hope their infant will be cared for. The film provocatively asks viewers to judge people on their behaviour, and to acknowledge the reasons for this behaviour.

One young mother, Moon So-young (Lee), abandons her baby, but changes her mind and goes back to the “baby box” to retrieve her baby. She surmises what is happening, and decides to trust in the claim that something is being done to find a good home for her child. She decides, sullenly at first, to accompany Ha-Sang and Dong-soo on a road trip to interview potential parents. Two detectives –Su-Jin (Bae), and her younger colleague, Detective Lee (Lee Joo-young), are hot on the trail, and want to make an arrest, but they discover that nothing they come up against is at all what it seems. The film asks viewers to refrain from making rash judgments, and it mounts a compelling case for compassion and understanding.

Broker has been directed to be a companion piece to the 2018 movie, Shoplifters. Both films share the same themes: people who are social outcasts and struggle to survive, and bond together to form complex social units in their attempts to cope. Through such an experience in this film, an unwanted baby is put on a path that offers the chance of a better life. Moon So-young, is recovering from severe trauma, and finds hope in life for her child that otherwise promises despair, rejection and unhappiness.

The film is a powerful one. The storyline is uplifting, and the film beautifully espouses the value of caring, and the need to find a way out of adversity that is sustainable. The acting is memorable, especially that of Song Kang-ho, who is the ‘broker’ of the film’s title. This is a provocative film about choice and consequence. It involves an unconventional family unit, a mis-understood mother with an infant needing to be looked after, and a child who is given caring and love.

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