Illegal funds for a good cause

As crazy as it sounds: Hirokazu Kore-eda gains amusing moments and intensive insights from the odyssey of two baby dealers and a mother with her offspring.

Kathryn Horster

03/14/2023 – 12:07 p.m

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There must be hard reasons why mothers give away their own child. In the case of So-young (Ji-eun Lee), however, the investigators Su-jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) aren’t so sure whether she’s really acting out of deepest desperation. From the surveillance van, they watch as So-young leaves her infant on the rain-soaked street in front of the church’s baby hatch instead of placing him in the safe, heated chamber. However, Su-jin and Lee aren’t out to bully supposed bad mothers. They wait for child traffickers, so-called brokers, to steal abandoned babies in order to sell them.

In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s social drama “Broker – Family Wanted”, the child traffickers Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Dong-won Gang) are not villains who don’t care about the fate of the children. They want to put the little ones in the best possible hands and save them a long wait for new parents in the orphanage. The two of them just barely keep their heads above water with the additional income, because Sang-hyeon is the owner of a laundry that isn’t running well and the protection money demands of the local gangsters are getting too much for him.

Alone as a prostitute on the run

One is amazed at how densely the Japanese filmmaker weaves a complex social structure in the first few minutes of his film, in which the individual individuals try to organize their own chaotic life as best they can under the pressure of external conditions. Even if that means having to resort to illegal means. The fact that Hirokazu Kore-eda has a heart for people in stressful situations was already proven in 2004 with his harrowing drama “Nobody Knows” about four siblings who were abandoned by their mother. For “Shoplifters”, the portrait of an extraordinary patchwork family, he was awarded various prizes in 2019, including the Palme d’Or in Cannes. “Broker”, which Kore-eda didn’t shoot in Japan but in South Korea, is told with a little less verve than “Shoplifters”, but the story about the alliance of two child traffickers and a mother, who coin their very own concept of family, is worth seeing anyway.

Contrary to what you might think, So-young actually has good reasons to give her child away. As a prostitute without a family, she is barely able to take care of a baby. She is also involved in a crime and therefore on the run. Nevertheless, they doubt that they have done the right thing for their son Woo-sung. When she asks about her child at church the next day, nobody there knows anything about him. Except for Dong-soo, who works there as a volunteer and put the little one at his friend Sang-hyeon’s laundry. So-young doesn’t want the child back, but she wants a say in choosing the new parents and a share of the proceeds from the sale. During the following odyssey across the country, the four are pursued by the investigators, who only have a chance of stopping the brokers if they actually sell.

The actual sale is what matters on all sides

Despite the harsh subject matter, “Broker” is not a dark film. Although Kore-eda is based on reality and portrays the troubled everyday life of his protagonists in an unembellished way, he concentrates on their will to survive and pragmatism. The insights into the respective biographies are intensive; For example, when Sang-hyeon meets his little daughter, who lives with her mother after her parents divorced and who is now completely estranged from her father. Dong-soo, on the other hand, suffers from the trauma of having grown up as an orphan in an orphanage. His motivation to find suitable interested parties for the children appears in a different light. And So-young’s initially disturbing, gruffly matter-of-fact handling of her baby is simply a result of her concern that she is becoming too emotionally attached to the child.

With all understanding for the protagonists, however, the sale of the children is a criminal offense – Kore-eda counters the fact with humor and the almost flippant running gag that the potential buyers always criticize Woo-sun’s eyebrow shape. The policewomen are more tragic than tough, overwhelmed by their own relationship and career problems. The sometimes cheerful serenity in actually tragic moments can sometimes be irritating. But because the protagonists often behave contrary to usual patterns, Kore-eda’s story seems all the more believable – including the bittersweet happy ending.

Broker – family wanted. South Korea 2022. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Starring Song Kang Ho, Ji Eun Lee, Dong Won Gang. 129 minutes. From 12 years.

The director and his most successful films

Great achievements
Hirokazu Kore-eda, born in Kiyose, Japan, in 1962, has had many successes with his films. The filmmaker won international prizes in 2019, especially with “Shoplifters” about the affinity of petty criminal underdogs. With “La Vérité” (2019) he released a film with a European cast for the first time: Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche played the leading roles.

Big issues
Kore-eda is particularly interested in social issues and family tensions, with less physical than emotional kinship, as in “Like Father, like Son” (2014), “Our Little Sister” (2015), “Shoplifters ‘ and ‘brokers’. Kore-eda explored loss and death in works such as Maboroshi: The Light of Illusion (1995) and After Life (1998).