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MOVIES: Broker - Review

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Broker is the latest film from the master of the tender-hearted sentimental family drama, Hirokazu Kore-eda, who recently made a television show for Netflix, not that you’d know because Netflix didn’t tell you. Here he’s back in his natural element for the first time since his 2018 drama Shoplifters which won the Palme d’Or. Both films focus on family, the nature of bonds found and real, and Broker uses that as a way to explore a multitude of themes, initially revolving around a pair of unorthodox child brokers, who take babies from mothers who abandoned them and sell them onto aspiring parents, and the two cops that are chasing them down trying to catch them in the act.

Found family at the heart of Broker comes in many forms, one of redemption and togetherness, and the ability to find anyone through the most unlikeliest of circumstances. Can you forgive yourself? Do you want to? What right does a mother have to give up her child? Broker tackles all of these questions by placing the audience in an impossible choice that leaves them questioning whether they’d make the same calls in the same circumstances that Lee Ji-eun (IU) finds herself in, when she finds herself caught up under the wing of the same couple of brokers after abandoning her baby at a baby box – Song Kang-ho’s Sang hyeon and Gang Dong-won’s Dong-soo. All 3 actors, megastars, give Broker the emotional heft that it needs – the characters feel completely believable within their world; and the perspective that you see of them shifts radically from person to person – you’re not presented the same worldview, but different people sharing different ideas – this is what makes this drama so special. It’s just as enthralling watching the path charted by Lee Joo-young’s Detective Lee and Bae Doona’s So-jin, and you’re torn between the two Detectives wanting to get their task done and the family’s continued survival even though they all know it’s impossible thing to do.

The score from Jung Jae-il gives Broker a sense of a warm hug; captured in its sentimental nature and welcoming overt gaze. There are funny moments made possible thanks to the child actor Im Seung-Soo, who plays Hae-jin, an aspiring footballer who joins the brokers at an orphanage and wants to play in the Premier League. It’s completely sincere in these touches and the humour adds a sense of warmth and depth to Broker that would not be possible otherwise; with the ever present danger – the police aren’t the only people following them – never really going away; and Broker has the potential as a result of that to skewer into something much darker but it makes a call not to – and the warmth that it brings is much appreciated given the subject matter.

The film is for those who leave and those who stay; what it means to those left behind, searching for a quest for answers when sometimes there is none. It looks into the parents of adopted children and the reasoning behind their adoption; and whether a child can ever forgive them in turn for leaving them behind – tugging at the emotional heartstrings as it does so. The revelation comes from Lee Ji-eun’s performance; a young woman who has to find her own path through life, not shown, as you’d expect from the louder American films, through a big operatic moment but a series of quieter ones - the bonds formed with other characters add depth to their choices that they make under the circumstances. It takes a lot of energy for the film to ask us to believe why these characters would make these choices and the actors should be praised for letting us take them on the journey where they do – making all these outside elements like the gangsters chasing the brokers and the police more involved would lend to a more convoluted feel, but the low-key aspect of Broker, though not without its own high stakes, is part of the reason why it’s so successful.

Wrestling with moral dilemmas is key to Broker's success – the ethically questionable story is something that you don’t fully find yourself questioning completely until the film cuts away from the brokers themselves – they’re the protagonists here; but the film is completely aware of their actions. It’s the performance of Song Kang-ho who brings a sense of wisdom beyond his gaze; but there’s also a touch of a haunted man there, the depth to his performance really anchors the film in place acting as the parent for a found family that he’d cast aside for his own survival. It’s just a wonderful ensemble all told; with every actor making the choice to tug at the audience’s heart and emotions and every actor succeeding in doing so. A side is chosen, but by the end - you'll be on that side, too.

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