It takes generous, humanistic thinking to make lovable characters from a human trafficking operation. Luckily, Japanese master Hirokazu Koreeda has made a career of finding the poetry of common people, their travails and their delicate, sometimes fractured relationships.
Shoplifters charted the adventures of an impoverished family dependent on the petty theft of expired goods; Nobody Knows concerned abandoned children struggling to evade the attention of the authorities; Our Little Sister followed the developing bonds between long-lost half-siblings.
Broker, the director’s first Korean film, follows hot-on-the-heels of his first English-language film, The Truth, a big blazing melodrama starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, three long-time Koreeda fans who had always hoped to work with the Afterlife filmmaker. Broker is a South Korean production but the story was inspired by Japan’s only baby box, a place where people can anonymously leave newborns.
The plot concerns two black-market baby brokers – Sang-hyun (Song) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) – who collect infants left in baby boxes, selling them on to childless couples. Hours after they snatch newborn Woo-sung, the child’s mother, So-young (Lee Ji-eun) has a change of heart and demands the return of her baby.
The traffickers convince her to join forces, arguing that it’s better to give Woo-sung up to a loving family. Thus begins an unconventional road trip and the formation of an even more unconventional family. Various cops, notably the hard-bitten Su-jin (Doona Bae), stay on the case, regardless.
The winner of the Ecumenical Jury Award at the 2022 Cannes Festival finds warmth and empathy in the unlikeliest and most unethical places. All of the black-and-white hats associated with American screenwriting are unceremoniously discarded in favour of complicated motivations and rich backstories. Hong-Kyung-Pyo’s sunny cinematography and the lively soundtrack add to the sense of delight.