Thursday, June 8, 2023

Movie Review: The darkness of “Broker” is expertly punctuated with light

MosaicArts and EntertainmentMovie Review: The darkness of “Broker” is expertly punctuated with light

Staff Writer

Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Broker,” a South Korean film that had its American release in December 2022, is a film bold in its genre-defying combination of crime mystery, road trip and family drama. 

Yet somehow, it works. Instead of a group of closely-linked individuals hitting the road for the sake of bonding, the characters in this film make their journey with the intent of returning with one less passenger.

IMDb’s current description of the film is underwhelming, reading, “Boxes are left out for people to anonymously drop off their unwanted babies.” “Broker” indeed opens with a baby box, but a mother, So-young (played by singer-songwriter IU), strangely leaves her baby outside of a church’s baby box as two detectives inexplicably look on. The baby, Woo-sung, ends up in the hands of Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who illegally sell babies to parents looking to adopt. Much to their surprise, So-young returns and, learning of their intentions, begins to take part in the hunt for suitable parents. With the duo of detectives (played by Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) on their trail, the group sets out as the baby they seek to part ways with reveals the deeper layers of all involved.

All of the performances in “Broker” are incredible, and it’s worth noting that the film earned star Song Kang-ho his first “Best Actor” win at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. The humanity each actor brings to their character draws a viewer in to such a degree that it’s easy to forget you’re not part of the action yourself. The film manages to intertwine distinct plot lines in a way that, instead of being dizzying, allows for a deeper understanding of the nuanced circumstances and stories behind its individuals.

What makes each actors’ presence in the film all the more memorable is their respective interactions with baby Woo-sung, from So-young’s hesitant detachment to Sang-hyeon’s enthusiastic cooing and rattle-shaking to calm the fussy child. It is a strange but well-executed parallel as the baby, initially viewed as something profit-earning, ultimately serves to bring out the innate complexity — and heart — in each character.

The cinematography and attention to detail in “Broker” are likewise striking. Scenes shift from rainy alleyways to sunny seasides to dark rooftops illuminated by the glow of neon lights in a manner that’s thoughtful instead of head-spinning. Woo-sung’s cries are a recurring motif, and close-ups of just-washed baby bottles and the image of the child kicking under his mother’s jacket as she hesitates in front of the baby box are subtle but ultimately haunting.

Despite all of the good nature of the characters composing the film’s makeshift family, it’s still a movie about the illegal sale of a child. Needless to say, it’s dark at its core, with Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo disturbingly nonchalant about the prospect of exchanging a child for money at the start of the film. Sure, both they and So-young are in dire straits, but while they work together to actively seek out the “best” prospective adopters possible, Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo’s initial worries center on making Woo-sung as marketable as possible. On a similar note, some of the couples they meet openly express their superficial expectations for the child, with one vocally disappointed at the child’s eyebrows.

“Broker” asks what it means to be a parent, a child, a family and even a member of law enforcement, refusing to resort to sunshine and rainbows as it grapples with these questions and not offering conclusive answers for any of them. It touches on the importance of names and where we come from, and it underscores the power of simple gratitude for the existence of those around us. It also manages to subtly contend with the irony and ethics of apparent paradoxes in legal systems. But this nuanced character is what makes “Broker” so engrossing as it embodies life’s strange habit of doling out bright moments that manage to punctuate undeniable darkness. In the same vein, much like life, the film is unpredictable, full of twists and turns.

Conceptually speaking, “Broker” manages to be one of the few simultaneously novel and realistic films I’ve seen recently, never succumbing to too much gloom or overindulging in optimism. It appears that the film isn’t being widely released (it was only showing in two venues in my hometown), but should it come to a theater near you, don’t squander the opportunity to see it. The film may very well change your perspective on the ebbs and flows of everyday life and leave you thinking long after you’ve left the theater.




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