It seems unimaginable that murders, child prostitution, and baby trafficking can be a backdrop for a moving film about family and caring; but, this is just what the film “ Broker” offers us: an experiential lesson in empathy and societal ills.
The Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda writes the tale, directs the tale, and edits the tale. Sometimes doing it all is a mistake; and here, the over two-hour timeframe is a tad long. But like his winning “ Shoplifters” ( reviewed Jan. 24th, 2018) , Kore-Eda does a masterful job at humanizing and elevating the underclass. The two films are considered “ companion pieces”. One common theme being that “ all the ties that bind need not be genetic”.
“Broker” is filmed in “The City of Film” ~the port city of Busan, South Korea, with its population of over 3.5 million. The Busan International Film Festival is the largest in Asia. In an unusual format for a cinematic drama, Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda speaks directly to the audience before his film begins. He thanks many and hopes all enjoy their experience. He himself is emotionally invested. Being a Wansei, ( Japanese born in Taiwan before 1945) Kore-Eda was repatriated and may still understand that “ wandering-stranger-feeling” of orphanhood.
Kore-Eda chose an all Korean cast, and he places his mix-match of family members here in Busan. Song Kang-ho stars as the broker, winning Best Actor Award at Cannes for this part. He mesmerizes in every scene ~be it in his joy or in his pain. The reunion breakfast with his small daughter is masterclass acting.
Kore-Eda’s storyline is very plotted. It begins with a church’s baby box , supposedly, a safe haven for a newborn’s abandonment. Our broker owns a small laundry and repair business across the street. He pays gangsters for business protection. Money is tight. His friend~himself a younger twenty-something orphan~works at the church. They sell babies on the black market when Dong-soo can delete video surveillance before the church counselors can take charge.
The duo tell themselves that they can find better parents and keep the babies out of foster care where many have bad experiences. The church orphanage where they volunteer may be a better option, but it is 100% full, and often brings a dark future.
The heavy piano score, I did not like; but , this is just personal. Much of the original score by Jung Jae-il is evocative without being leading.
Enter our young mother played by Lee Ji-eun. As Moon So-young , she can spit fire; but, before we know her heavy history, Hong Kyung- pyo illuminates the screen with golden-bronzed rain. She is plodding her way to being cleansed. Later, he uses chiaroscuro to great effect as each family member thanks the others for being born.
His flowing water over bricked city streets is like raw rainsong. The flow of the rivulets and the mounting currents are metaphoric of personal drift. Life moves the individual more than the individual moves life. We find ourselves , like our protagonist, in a sea of circumstance. Kyung-pro’s one long-held shot of a toilet bowl was lost on me, but many tender shots linger, like when So-young sleeps next to her baby.
Our mother, Moon So- Young, decides she wishes to be part of the adoption selection. She is not an innocent. Innocence has been taken from her. She is worldly wise when she yells “ Benevolence, my ass!” at our rather self-labeled “charitable traffickers”.
Enter the detective duo~two female investigators, who are building a case against our adoption traffickers. Humor abounds in their constant snacking: pork, noodles, tomatoes, eggs. They must arrest the group in the act of selling the baby. There is more humor as the prospective adoptive-parents comment on the baby’s sparse eye brows. Moon So-Young is incensed and demands they find a better buyer.
What we have next amounts to a road trip of vans, buses, trains and boats. Lots of directions are given on the best way to diaper, bathe, burp, and entertain our infant. We are teased with lots of ways this family trip can end. Fleeing from the past meshes with running toward a future. Forgiveness is in the songs sung: “Rain washes everything I was up to yesterday~you just need a big umbrella~ big enough for two”. More water motifs and humor come in a great scene at the car wash.
Bae Donna is Soo-Jin, the lead crime investigator. She muses to her colleague that for professional traffickers, the group seems impoverished. In a crazy plot entanglement, we learn that her murdered husband is the father of Moon So-young’s son and her victim.
Police baiting and an adorable eight-year-old played by Im Seung-soo add more unforgettable scenes. The big picture for our screenwriter et.al. is the irony of celebrating Family Month and Children’ s Day in May when not enough is done for South Korean family services in any month. This entertaining and thoughtful film ultimately pushes one to care for criminals and for families alike.