‘Broker’ review: Three criminals trying to sell a baby become an unlikely family in latest Kore-eda article

While Americans’ attention is captured by the issue of abortion, on the other side of the world, director Kore-eda Hirokazu (“Shoplifters”) focuses on the alternative for mothers who carry their pregnancies to term, but cannot raise the children alone. An unexpectedly warm, non-judgmental look at Korea’s gray market for adoption, “Broker” was inspired by the idea of ​​”baby hatches” – essentially, a donation station for unwanted babies – and follows natural curiosity. from the director to its most humanistic conclusion, as audiences come to sympathize with virtually everyone involved in the buying and selling of a little bundle of joy.

What is Kore-eda, who is Japanese, making a film in South Korea, you might ask? This is not the first time he has worked abroad. Fortunately, “Broker” is less over the top than the Oscar-winning director’s previous feature and Palme d’Or – the starry but stilted meta-movie “The Truth,” which was set in Paris – bringing Kore-eda back to the familiar theme of families, linked by blood or necessity, and the inexhaustible moral territory he finds there to explore. In addition, this project allowed him to work with “Parasite” cinematographer Hong Kyung Pyo and the star of this film, Song Kang Ho, whose good-natured personality makes it difficult to think too badly of the human trafficker. The film’s eponymous humans, Sang-hyun.

“Broker” opens with an unnamed mother abandoning her child in a church-run baby box. Two female police detectives (Doona Bae and Lee Joo Young) are watching the location where the drop-off is happening, as they have already figured out that one of the church employees – Dong-soo (Gang Dong Won), is him. -even orphaned – steals infants left without contact details and sells them to desperate parents.

It’s a victimless crime, as far as Dong-soo and Sang-hyun are concerned. In fact, they’ve managed to convince themselves that they’re the good guys, helping kids who might otherwise be stuck in the system find loving homes. (It is explained that when a mother leaves a note saying she will be back to pick up the child, she cannot be adopted. But only one in 40 of these mothers returns, sentencing the babies to life in an orphanage .)

Except that the mother of this infant shows up a day later, which complicates the whole equation. But when she learns that the baby brokers are expecting to collect 10 million won (about $8,000) for her son, So-young (Lee Ji Eun) decides the money is better than picking up baby Woo. -sung. Sang-hyun convinces her to go with him, as such deals are easier when the biological mother is present – and thus begins the road trip that will change their entire lives, with the two detectives in tow.

At this point, the film may sound a lot like a former Palme d’Or winner, 2005’s “The Child,” in which a deadbeat boyfriend sells his girlfriend’s baby, then spends the rest of the film scramble to reverse this bad decision. This film is a mini masterpiece of social realism – the best of the Dardenne brothers – and plays out like a thriller, with the highest stakes imaginable: what audience doesn’t worry about the fate of a child, past like a hot potato between irresponsible parties? “Broker” is more of a melodrama, almost devoid of suspense. The film isn’t at all shy about its own sentimentality (though subtle enough to get away with it), which is enhanced by composer Jung Jae Il’s rolling piano score.

Kore-eda is surprisingly generous to his characters, almost all of whom break the law, but whose basic decency is on display when dealing with others in need. It is eventually revealed that So-young is a prostitute who murdered her baby’s gangster father, but even this rather extreme development is quickly forgiven, not only by Sang-hyun and Dong-soo (they impersonate her husband in various circumstances). but also by the cops, who offer him a chance to reduce his sentence.

As in “Shoplifters”, this small criminal clique instinctively reconfigures itself into a sort of ersatz family, completing the bonds that seem to be missing in each of their respective lives: So-young has no father figure and Dong-soo never knew his people. , while Sang-hyun lost contact with his own daughter. It’s not entirely convincing that they bond as deeply as they do (it is suspected that Kore-eda considers any group of three or more people to be family), and yet, dramatically, this evolution of their dynamics makes the task of selling Woo-sung more complicated.

Somewhere along the way, a seven-year-old boy named Hae-jin escapes from the orphanage and hitches a ride in their battered old van, giving the three of them the chance to act like adoptive parents – basically. , an attempt to redeem them . gdating back at least as far as 2004’s “Nobody Knows” (in which a 12-year-old must raise his younger siblings after their mother disappears), Kore-eda has been interested in how unlikely contestants come under the challenge of parenthood. I suspect he’s the type who can’t visit an animal shelter without bringing home a puppy, seeing as his characters only need to be with a baby for a few days to resent it a. to swear them entirely.

Several times, the subject of abortion surfaces, implying that killing a fetus is less cruel than leaving it in the wrong hands. One of the police detective’s first words in the film is, “Don’t have a baby if you abandon it.” Kore-eda is clearly interested in mothers – those able to give up a child as well as those so desperate to adopt – and yet, as the film unfolds, it is the experiences of these children that matters the most. How to show a child rejected by his parents that he belongs to this world? With the words “thank you for being born,” Kore-eda concludes, giving each of his characters a chance to hear this magnanimous mantra. It’s a nice note on which to close “Broker,” which somewhat implausibly expanded from a narrowly focused crime movie to a sweet group hug.

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