5 out of 5
Every year, hundreds of infants are abandoned in Seoul, South Korea. Baby boxes provide a safe location for infants to be placed if parents feel they cannot care for their child, and wish to allow them to be adopted. Some see it as an opportunity to give a child a better life. Others see it as an excuse for struggling mothers to surrender and not seek further support. Either way, these infants need love and someone to care for them.
In Broker, we follow Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), the owner of a launderette and a volunteer at the nearby church, where his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) works. The two run an illegal business together: Sang-hyeon occasionally steals babies from the church's baby box with the help of Dong-soo. His accomplice deletes the church's CCTV footage that shows a baby was left there, and then they sell them on the adoption black market. However, when a young mother, So-young (Lee Ji-eun) comes back after abandoning her baby, she discovers them. She decides to go with them on a road trip to interview the baby's potential parents. Along the way, the unconventional family is joined by Hae-jin (Im Seung-soo), an 8-year-old orphan wanting to be adopted. Meanwhile, Detectives Soo-jin (Bae Doona) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) are on their trail as So-young is suspected of a crime.
Director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest work is his first in Korean, not his native Japanese, and came about as he researched adoption around the world, while working on his 2013 film Like Father, Like Son. Kore-eda’s work is known for its empathy, compassion, and tender approach to complex ethics, and observations of broken people in unconventional families. Broker is another example of his ability to graciously examine and present the hardships many single Korean mothers face.
When discussing why he chose the title, the director said “The "broker" in the film changes as the story unfolds. Focusing on the word broker conjures the thought that the title would become very simple and robust. The film's structure was fascinating and complementary, where the person wanting to sell the baby inverts as the storytelling progresses. Indeed, as the story unfolds, shifting agendas push forward the narrative, but with one ultimate core: the best option for the infant Woo-sung.
Empathy is also on solid display within the cast. Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-wan and Lee Ji-eun’s trio of co-leads deliver beautifully grounded and complex performances that grow together. As the group journey together, they become a family, and seeing how each seeks to nurture and care for one another is so moving. There’s a touch of whimsy at moments which helps to lighten the more challenging realities they face in finding adoptive parents, avoiding police, and outrunning gangsters.
Broker is heartfelt, heartwarming and heartbreaking. The story combinines road trip antics, a moving ensemble and some complex emotions to tell a tale about family. All the while, touching on responsibility and sacrificial love, with a fantastic cast, and tender story that ends on a bittersweet note that tugs the heartstrings compassionately.
Reel Dialogue: The pain of sacrificial love
For So-young, there is deep pain and grief at having to give up her son, Woo-sung. While she loves him dearly, it is out of this love, that she wishes to give him up, so that he may have better opportunities than she could offer him.
The pain of sacrificial love is complex. It often involves inflicting pain on ourselves, in an attempt to shield others from pain. There is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ. He sacrificed Himself because He loved the world. In doing so, He was beaten, shamed, and most painfully separated from His own Father. And He went through it all, to adopt us as His own. Could there be any greater sacrificial love than this?
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us - 1 John 3:16a