By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
- Starring Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Lee Ji-eun, Bae Doona
In terms of cinematic blindspots, Hirokazu Kore-eda has remained one of the biggest in terms of my own personal experience. Outside of general praise from fellow cinephiles and a constant reminder of the strength of his films – particularly when Shoplifters hit several years ago and was widely seen as maybe the best film of it’s year. Broker, his newest as well as his first Korean language film is my first experience with his standard blend of sentimentalism, family dynamics, and slow burn storytelling.
And it’s a good one! Broker is, for all intents and purposes, very good in what it sets out to do, which is to be a heartwarming drama that packs an emotionally charged punch. It wants the audience to feel a very certain, specific way about it’s characters and on that end, it very much succeeds. You would think that, when reading the premise, it would be hard to root for a family dynamic built of mostly child kidnappers, an orphan child, and the mother who abandoned her baby that was kidnapped, but Kore-eda makes it effortless by finding the charm in the little things. From Sang-hyeon who spouts words of wisdom to Dong-soo whose love of children is evident in every frame, it’s literally impossible to not fall in love with these people in spite of their flaws.
That’s really the secret ingredient here. Kore-eda never hides his character’s flaws, and instead opts to take a neutral, yet deeply empathetic stance to them and portray them as humanly as possible. It’s not showy direction, nor is it even that stylish, but it’s quiet, and it’s limited usage of music except for key moments and the focus on the everyday interactions make things more alive then they otherwise would be. A lesser director would make things too melodramatic; Kore-eda instead opts for sincerity over manipulation.
It’s actual thematic meat is a little bit dicier. Broker opts for a narrative that explores issues of abortion and murder under a strictly ethical lens, and never really gives an answer to these questions. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as Broker instead opts for personal drama over commentary in regards to these moments, but it’s discussion of abortion is more one-note then I think Kore-eda wanted it to come off. But ultimately, it keeps that discussion between women rather then letting the men in on it, and comes across as simply two women with differing views on a thorny topic finding some common ground in how they were both given a lack of choice in the matter. What’s handled far between is it’s exploration of the adoption system, which while feeling distinctly Japanese in how Kore-eda approaches it still has universal implications, which could explain his decision to set this Korea rather then his native Japan.
It also allows veteran actor Song Kang-ho, fresh off of Parasite, to give one of the best performances of his career. He’s warm, soft, and deeply loving, and while he has his own troubles he’s the anchor that everybody else swims around. He will likely be missed around awards season which is a shame considering how good he actually is here, and his co-stars almost match him that regard. Of particular note is Bae Doona, who plays the lead detective chasing down our lead family, who is more sympathetic then you would think and even, in some ways, is equally as a thematic anchor as the rest of the cast.
Broker is very unlikely Kore-eda’s best work – it’s a bit too thematically uneven to really be that. But it’s sheer likability and kindness is a great palette cleanser, and the ending is strong enough and emotionally crippling enough that it will, at least, send you off on a high note. And most of all, it makes me curious for the rest of Kore-eda filmography, which I’m sure this already very good film pales in comparison too.