Broker (Beurokeo) - Spoiler Free Movie Review
An unusual road trip movie, in which a group of loveable misfits learn to deal with issues of abandonment, all while trying to help a baby get adopted.
Original Title: 브로커 (Beurokeo)
Genre: Comedy / Crime / Drama
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Ji-eun Lee, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Joo-young, Im Seung-soo, Ryu Moo-saeng, Kim Seon-young & Song Sae-byeok.
Run Time: 129 min.
South Korea Release: 08 June 2022
US Release: 13 January 2023 (limited)
UK Release: 24 February 2023
German Release: 16 March 2023
South Korean cinema is currently on a roll, delivering some of the best features early this year. This week’s release in German theatres includes a road trip flick from the East Asian peninsula, directed by Japanese regisseur Hirokazu Kore-eda, who came up with the idea while researching the Japanese adoption system. Described by the director as a companion piece to his 2018 picture Shoplifters, which won the Palme d’Or, Broker not only shares similar narrative traits, it is equally emotionally appealing. So, let’s dive straight into my review…
When a young woman decides to give up her newborn baby, she discovers an active group that steals box babies to sell them. Catching the group red-handed, she decides to join them, to find new custodians ready to take care of her child. A fun, exciting, road trip ensues but things don't go smoothly as two lady cops are hot on their trail.
As stated in my introductory paragraph, regisseur/writer Kore-eda came up with the screenplay, as he investigated the adoption system in Japan, with a single baby box system, criticised by the public. Figuring out that the baby box system is much more popular in South Korea, he decided to move the setting to the peninsula, discussing a collaboration with Song, Dong, and Bae.
An early title was envisioned as “Baby, Box, Broker”, as the plot was supposed to connect those three elements, however, the “broker” part was always the dominating aspect, and as such it was decided to simplify it to just Broker. It is a slow-burning film that takes its time unfolding, with the first act ominous as to where the story will lead. That said, it is never dull thanks to the different personalities of this rag-tag group of people, which audiences follow as they travel across the country. The biggest appraisal is the family-like bond the four characters form, as well as the emotional crescendo in the third act, packing a punch!
Hirokazu Kore-eda did an amazing job at tugging different sentimental chords of the heart. It is foremost a character study, focusing on each individual as they need to deal with the emotional trauma of abandonment; be it planning to leave someone behind, or having been rejected by a person themselves. This psychological damage shaped each character in some sort of way, making them relatable to audiences!
The dialogues contain subtle humour, as Ha Sang-hyeon tries to break the tension, with banal trivia. The tone starts shifting to more serious and sentimental conversations, though, the more tight-nit the group becomes, revealing unspoken secrets.
Song Kang-ho, best known internationally for his role in Parasite, is cast as Ha Sang-hyeon who is the unofficial leader of this ragtag “family”. Sang-hyeon holds the group together, with his warm, quiet demeanour. He sings songs, makes dad jokes, in other words, he is the soul of the movie. Kang-ho gives an unusually sombre plus grounded performance.
Lee Ji-eun, better known as K-pop star IU, stars as Moon So-young, the young mother who is trying to find a suitable home for her newly born son. Ji-eun is the breakout star of this comedic drama, stealing most of the scenes she is in. So-young is the most mysterious out of all the characters, revealing only her full background story at the end of the last act. While this could have led to a one-dimensionality of the persona, IU manages to draw strength from it, giving the character a lot of depth.
Gang Dong-won plays Ha Sang-hyeon’s brokering partner Dog-soo. An orphan himself, he tries using the brokering gig not simply to earn money, but to give children a chance at a happy life. Im Seung-soo gives a magnificently adorable child performance, as the orphan Hae-jin.
Finally, there is the outstanding performance by Bae Doona, who carries most of the heavier dialogue lines, as Detective Soo-jin. She follows the group, trying to catch them red-handed as they sell Moon’s baby. Coming to a surprising realisation, she changes her approach during the last act.
The camera work is solid, though a little uncreative for a road trip flick. DP Hong Kyung-pyo, known for his work in Parasite, uses a naturalistic, photographic aesthetic, that has a documentary-like feel to it. This works wonders during emotional close-ups, or long shots in cities, harbours, etc. Sadly, it diminishes the visual component of the road trip itself. The colour palette is intriguing, using suppressed hues of greens, blues and greys, underlining the personas’ broken emotional state, with occasional red or pink tones as contrasts.
The settings vary, being a journey-round story, including locations like Pohang, Uljin and Samcheok. The costume design is timely, using a light leisure style.
Verdict: I am very impressed at how director Kore-eda, manages to infuse a touchy subject as this, with heart-felt sentimentality plus subtle humour. It is a certification of the director’s competency with such delicate topics, as proven already by his prior work. By making the characters front and centre of the story, studying their motivations as well as their backgrounds, which led them to the situation they are in, he created enticing personas audiences can relate to. While not everyone will find the ending satisfying, I thought it was a touching conclusion, even if not all characters obtain a deserving payoff. The ensemble cast gives stellar performances, especially Ji-eun Lee, who makes her motion picture debut in this feature. She steals every scene she is in. The cinematography is nearly documentary-esque, yet comes at the risk of losing the appeal of the road trip factor. Broker is a great movie, deserving an 8.5 out of 10.
Have you seen this new Korean film, by Japanese regisseur Hirokazu Kore-eda yet? If not, go to the cinema, or buy it. It is worth it! Thank you very much for reading!