Reviewed by: Dora Leu

"More pedantic than poetic, making for an unfulfilling watch." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Broker is a frustrating film. To refer to any film as such can often be a compliment, as it could translate to thought-provoking, yet Hirokazu Kore-eda’s newest feature disappointingly delivers nothing on the expectations the Cannes-winning director himself has set up for his oeuvre. Saying it’s a waste of time is a cheap formulation and might even be too strong, but I doubt Broker offers anything else on the theme of unconventional families that Kore-eda’s previous films have not. If anything, Broker feels like a hurried report of all that has interested the Japanese director before about unlikely familial bonds and the notion that blood is not thicker than water.

I say that with a heavy heart, as I’ve often admired the director, particularly with early films like Maborosi or After Life, but I’ve also been very critical of him when his feel-good cinema borders a tame and inoffensive, please-all, anger-none direction that current mainstream Japanese cinema is so happy to take. Such is the case here and Broker veers into the mainstream with a high concept story where two morally ambiguous criminals (Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won) kidnap and sell orphan babies to families unable to have their own. But, asks Kore-eda, isn’t the greater crime to leave a child parentless? A hesitant young mother (IU) who returns for her abandoned child is keen to join their scheme of baby-brokering, all three plus another happy-go-lucky orphan boy they pick up along the way becoming an accidental family of sorts. As they try to give away the mother’s baby to the ‘right’ family and are followed by the police, the director ponders on motherhood and parenthood, sometimes sweetly, other times pedantically.

Copy picture

Kore-eda’s take on empathy and family as concepts that are conjunctural and not dictated by blood has, for a while, sat boldly against some conservative and traditional values of modern Japanese society, even more so as he has focused specifically on the lower classes and financially struggling individuals in a social context where the success of an urban middle class is the one sought out to be promoted. Yet Kore-eda’s blade has now been dulled by repetition - Shoplifters, Our Little Sister, Like Father, Like Son, Nobody Knows, even the France-set The Truth all seem to deliver the same message about fragmented families as being valid, if not more truthful and caring than so-called normal families. Broker is not able to infuse the thought with any more urgency or relevance, making an otherwise very potent message feel like it has been exhausted.

There is one particularly dangerous line in Broker that might indicate that Kore-eda is no longer willing to go against the grain, but may have settled in some comfortable territory. It’s namely one "Thank you for being born" that the family tell the baby and then each other as they are about to be disbanded, a line which behind some candour of the moment is bound to leave some viewers uncomfortable. Broker’s constant musings on how it’s better for a child to have been brought into life than not to have been born at all could be á la Kore-eda humanist, yet they border on questionable pro-life nuance. I would be willing to give the director the benefit of the doubt and say that is accidental, but whether he wants it or not, despite being set in South Korea, Kore-eda’s film plays into the birth encouraging social policy discourse that so indiscreetly often permeates Japanese media. To us who were accustomed to Kore-eda slightly shaking traditional values and the status quo in the background, that does not feel like a very comfortable position.

While it may be exciting to see a returning Bae Doona as a detective, Broker’s use of iconic South Korean talent also seems to work against itself, making the film rather hard to connect with for anyone up to date with Korean film and entertainment. It is hard to see the character for the actor, with Broker speculating on the star power of singer IU and popular actor Gang Dong-won, as well as veteran and Bong Joon-ho favourite Song Kang-ho. It may be that they are too recognoscible, or that the story is not distracting enough to think of anything else, as Kore-eda has not had the same problem working with his own set of favourites like Lily Franky or Kirin Kiki.

In fact, what Broker does seem to ultimately miss the most is that image of Kirin Kiki from Shopfliters peeling a tangerine. Kore-eda’s latest is more pedantic than poetic, making for an unfulfilling watch. I’m not sure who to quote on this, but a mediocre film is worse than a bad one, so there is only the hope that Kore-eda will recover from a formula that pleases everyone and doesn’t have the courage to upset anyone.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2022
Share this with others on...
Broker packshot
Drama following a group of people brought together by "baby post boxes" used to help abandoned babies.
Amazon link

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young

Year: 2022

Runtime: 129 minutes

Country: Korea

Search database: