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Broker – Film Review

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broker film review
Broker Film Review

Broker sounds more like a dare than a movie. Is it possible to make child traffickers into sympathetic characters? Would you dare to make a movie that tried? Broker – through some luck and judgment – manages to tiptoe through this minefield, emerging at the other side to become possibly the most lovable movie of the year. 

It’s no surprise to see that the director of Broker, Kore-eda Hirokazu, is also the director of 2018’s Shoplifters. The two movies pull off the same trick: introducing you to a cast of characters who are very much criminals (Shoplifters features shoplifters and kidnappers), and their crimes will disgust. But somehow – by spending time with them, basking in their sheer charisma, perhaps even understanding their reasoning – you may well end up wanting the story to turn out well for them. Except, of course, there is no way that it can. 

Broker’s child trafficking immediately gets some context, in case you were grasping for the red flags. Ha Sang-hyun (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho) works at a home for abandoned babies, which has gone to the length of installing a ‘baby box’: a kind of amnesty ‘hatch’ for women who want to anonymously leave their babies behind. He works a night shift at the home, which allows him and his partner, Song Kang-ho (Gang Dong-won) to delete the CCTV of anyone who makes a deposit in the waking hours, and take the child themselves. So far, so worrying, right?

The moral excuse for this activity is that the orphanage is over-subscribed, rarely leads to adoption, and is no place for a child to grow up. Song Kang-ho is a product of one such orphanage, and he’s seen as the successful one: the one that the other orphans aspire to. He wants a better life for these children (at least, that’s the noble wrapper he puts on his actions), which means carefully vetting potential parents and then – deep breath – selling the children to them. For lots of money. Up to ₩40m, to be precise, which translates to (quick Google) about £23k.

Into this moral murk steps Moon So-young (Ji-eun Lee), who is a mother who abandons her child, Woo-sung, to the baby box. She has second thoughts, so travels to the orphanage, only to find that Woo-sung was never registered or received. Her child gets trafficked by Ha Sang-hyun and Song Kang-ho, and Moon – through some awkward but hilarious wrangling – manages to get a piece of the action. Now, she is one of the triumvirate looking to sell her own son to aspiring couples. And it doesn’t stop there, as the entire operation is being staked out by two cops, determined to bring it down, while whispers of a murder case play out on the radio. 

Reading through all of that, you are likely still waving your red flag madly. But everyone’s on a journey, and – no matter what their initial motivation for trafficking was – those motives change. You can probably anticipate a couple. Moon will, no doubt, learn to love her child. The young Song will likely learn to love Moon. And perhaps – just perhaps – we will learn to love them all, even though their actions teeter on the despicable. 

Most surprising of all is how gleeful watching Broker is. Ha Sang-hyun in particular is a ball of optimism, occasionally given a rough handling by Song Kang-ho. The two crims also pick up an orphan who threatens to steal the entire movie (which would have been a justifiably ironic switcheroo – the kidnappers find their movie kidnapped), and lights up its best scene when he opens a window during a car wash. 

No matter how stubborn and acerbic the character in Broker, their facades get eroded away until you see the human underneath. And that’s all down to the superb writing, acting and arcs. Every single character, down to some of the smallest roles (a couple who are paid to entrap the team are hilarious), feel utterly believable, sufficiently rounded and have meaningful endings. It leads to a resolution that stabs you multiple times in the heart, simply because there is no way for everyone to get what they want. Their objectives are so at-odds that a satisfying resolution just isn’t possible. And you know that it won’t end well as that ending approaches: you can taste the bittersweet notes before they fully hit. 

There are moments when things are too convenient, and the plot careens about because the scriptwriters needed it to, rather than being the product of believable actions from the cast. A deal breaks down because Song Kang-ho has information that he really shouldn’t have. Enemies seemingly give up, or soften on the team, simply because the movie is on its home straight. But if seen as a fairy tale – one that happens to revolve around child trafficking – then you can forgive Broker its failings. 

Much like Shoplifters, Kore-eda Hirokazu has made a film in Broker that’s so endearing that you want to spend many more hours with its characters. Considering those characters are all lifelong criminals and kidnappers, it’s an achievement that has us nodding our heads with confused approval.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Hugely funny
  • Creates adorable characters and brings you into the group
  • Sharp social commentary
  • Some gleeful scenes
Cons:
  • Can create unbelievable moments
  • Accepting traffickers as main characters is a leap
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 2hr 9mins | 2023
  • To rent/buy - £no rent/£9.99 SD, HD
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Hugely funny</li> <li>Creates adorable characters and brings you into the group</li> <li>Sharp social commentary</li> <li>Some gleeful scenes</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Can create unbelievable moments</li> <li>Accepting traffickers as main characters is a leap</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 2hr 9mins | 2023 <li>To rent/buy - £no rent/£9.99 SD, HD</li> </ul>Broker - Film Review
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