Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film “Broker” is an interesting trial to admire. Like his previous film “The Truth” (2019), the movie attempts to transplant his own style and storytelling to a country outside Japan, and it is mildly engaging to observe how the movie does not lose any of his distinctively humane touch in its foreign background, though it is not one of his best works despite the good efforts from Kore-eda and his cast members.
Set in South Korea, the movie opens with a young woman named So-young (Lee Ji-eun) coming to a local church with her little baby at one night. The church has a facility taking care of abandoned babies, and she simply puts her baby into the baby box installed outside the church, but she does not know that she is actually being watched by two people inside the church: Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) and Sang-hyeon (Song Gang-ho). On the surface, Dong-soo is a mere part-time employee who happens to be monitoring the baby box alone at this night, but he is actually an accomplice of Sang-hyeon, who takes away those babies put into the baby box and then sells them on the adoption black market.
At first, everything goes well for Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo as they subsequently bring their latest baby to an old launderette belonging to Sang-hyeon. Sang-hyeon is going to take care of the baby for a while before he and Dong-soo eventually find a good buyer willing to pay them around 10 million won at least (It is about $8,000, by the way), and Dong-soo will hide the existence of the baby from others in the church.
Unfortunately, there soon comes a little problem for them. After changing her mind, So-young comes to the church again for retrieving her baby, and Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo try to handle this unexpected trouble as quickly as possible. When they tell her what they are going to do, So-young initially opposes to them, but she is eventually persuaded once they promise her a significant portion of what they will get in exchange of her baby, and that is the beginning of the rather uneasy alliance between her and them.
As these three main characters later prepare for taking the baby to their buyer, we also get to know more of what is happening around them without their knowledge. Right from the very beginning, they have been all watched by two female police detectives, and these two female police detectives are patiently waiting for a moment when they can arrest Sang-hyeon and his two accomplices with sufficient evidence. While Soo-jin (Bae Doona), the older one of this duo, regards Sang-hyeon and his two accomplices with bitter contempt, Soo-jin’s younger partner shows some compassion in contrast, and we sense the growing tension between them as they continue their stakeout.
However, the movie rolls its story and characters a lot more leisurely than expected. While it gradually turns out that the circumstance surrounding the main characters in the story is much more serious than it seemed at first, Kore-eda’s screenplay simply takes its time as they slowly move from one spot to another, and we get to know more about them bit by bit. It goes without saying that Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo are criminals, but they are also fairly decent persons at least, and they and So-young gradually look like a sort of family along with her baby as they continue to take care of her baby as much as they can.
When they later drop by a little rural orphanage where Dong-soo grew up, the movie seems to be stalling a bit, but then it is enlivened by the following small moments among them and several other characters including one plucky orphan boy. Like many of Kore-eda’s works, the movie is filled with soothing ambience as the camera frequently looks at beach, and we gladly go along with that as coming to care more about its main characters, who are flawed indeed but palpably human nonetheless.
The movie becomes a bit more tense during its last act, but its overall tranquil mood is steadily maintained even as it eventually heads toward the expected finale, and Kore-eda also did a goob job of drawing excellent performances from his South Korean cast members. While Song Kang-ho received the Best Actor award when the movie was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in last month (The movie also received the Ecumenical Jury Award, by the way), the other main cast members including Gang Don-won, who incidentally appeared along with Song before in “Secret Reunion” (2010), Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young, and Bae Doona, who already collaborated with Kore-eda in “Air Doll” (2009), are equally wonderful in their respective roles, and I also enjoyed the brief appearances of several notable South Korean performers Song Sae-byeok, Kim Sae-byuk, and Park Hae-joon. In case of child actor Im Seung-soo, his disarmingly unadulterated acting in the film reminds me again that not many filmmakers can surpass Kore-eda in handling child performers, and I am happy to report to you that this special skill of his is not impeded at all by the language barrier between him and Im.
On the whole, “Broker” does not reach to the level of Kore-eda’s recent better works such as “Like Father, Like Son” (2013) and “Shoplifters” (2018), but it does not disappoint me at least as exploring his usual main themes to generate a number gentle human moments to be appreciated. I must point out that he seems to be autopilot here from time to time, but, folks, Kore-eda on autopilot is still better than many of movies I watched during this year, and I will not grumble for now.