Despite a set-up that falls very heavily into the just-go-with-it basket, Japanese humanist Hirokazu Koreeda’s first Korean-set film unfurls itself into another touching, wryly funny tale of surrogate families. It’s not quite on a par with his Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters – what is? – but it’s a crowd-pleaser and a gentle joy, with a standout performance from Parasite’s Song Kang-ho.
Broker opens with a young woman, So-young (K-pop star Ji-eun Lee), leaving her new-born son at one of Busan’s so-called baby boxes. They’re a real-life mechanism to enable struggling parents to ensure unwanted children find their way into care. But they come with social judgment – ‘You threw your baby away’, So-young will be told on more than one occasion – and in Broker’s world, at least, they’re ripe for exploitation. Sure enough, two adoption brokers, Sang-hyun (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), steal the baby and begin touting him around on their network of wealthy wannabe parents, using their laundrette as a front for their criminal enterprise.
It’s an unlikely scenario – even before So-young, wanted for murder and being trailed by two cops, forms an unlikely alliance with the two baby traffickers – but Koreeda’s warmth and wit make it easy to let it slide. He wants to take you on a journey with a burgeoning family of misfits that’s soon swelled by another young orphan. The quartet, and the young moppet, travel around in a battered van full of dry cleaning from one lot of potential parents to another. It reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine in its easy charm, and there are similar dynamics are at play here: touching bonds slowly forming, life lessons being learnt and some big laughs.
The thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by Song Kang-ho’s Basset Hound charms
The hackneyed thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by the sharpness of the writing and Song’s Basset Hound charms. While Broker occasionally gets close to cloying, especially in its neat ending and jaunty score, Koreeda keeps it the right side of cutesy. It’s best enjoyed as a modern-day fairy tale – only, one where the abandoned baby sparks nothing but enchantment.
Broker premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.