Set in Busan, Broker begins as a young mother So-young (Lee Ji-eun) climbs the steps to a small church and approaches its ‘baby box’. Intending to abandon her infant child in anonymity, So-young places the child on the ground and leaves, promising to return some day. But two men, Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) witness this and, after making sure that no one is around, steal the baby with the intent of selling him. However, after So-young returns the following day, the men must partner with her in order to figure out the best possible life for her infant while making a profit in the process.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Broker is a delightful mix of seriousness and humour in the midst of a darkened world. Focussing on the issue of baby boxes, Kore-eda establishes early the tragedies of the criminal underworld that take place in plain sight. Telling the story of two baby brokers who attempt to make their living by selling infants, the film highlights such cultural tragedies as child trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse and abortion. In any other film, the mere mention of one or two of these issues would position its story under a black cloud of brokenness. However, without taking any of these heartbreaking topics too lightly, Kore-eda infuses the film with such heart and joy that the narrative never feels too bogged down by the darkness. In Broker, all of these issues are simply part of reality. As such, Kore-eda chooses instead to focus on the lives of those who are trying to survive in an unforgiving world.
In one of the riskier narrative choices, it’s fascinating to see Kore-eda choose to explore the controversial tension regarding abortion and adoption. With grace and respect for both arguments, it’s somewhat striking that Kore-eda manages to balance support for both honouring a woman’s right to choose and encouraging the practice of adoption, even in the case of unwanted pregnancy. This is a very difficult line to tread but, remarkably, Kore-eda does so without ever demonizing either other side.
With this in mind, Broker is very much a film that wants to celebrate life rather than revel in the shadows of death. Despite the overwhelming darkness around them, each of these characters refuses to be consumed by it. Instead, they continue to fight for a glimmer of hope and, more specifically, a sense of belonging. By bringing together two child traffickers, a wayward mother, or and an orphan child, Kore-eda creates an unexpected family that seems genuinely excited to be together.
In this community, no one seems to fit and yet the pieces all come together.
As they do so, healing and change begins to take place. All of a sudden, these broken souls begin to find hope and healing with one another and, potentially, a fresh start at life. In Broker, there is a very real recognition that everyone deserves to feel safe and find a home. This is a world that will eat you alive but, somehow, also contains the ingredients to make something new.
This is the magic of Broker. Rather than portray the world as a place of futility and bleakness and shadows, Kore-eda creates an environment that reminds the viewer that life can still be sparked within it. Because, despite the tragedies embedded within the culture, in Broker, not everything that’s broken is unfixable.
Broker is now playing in theatres.