“Broker” Review: Found family in morally gray places



Director Hirokazu Koreeda latest drama stars Song Kang-Ho (left) and Gang Dong-Won (right) as they put abandoned babies on the adoption market.

What one may expect to be an incredibly taxing drama about human trafficking is actually the oddest family roadtrip movie you need to see. “Broker,” a Korean film released on Dec. 26 in select theatres, is nothing like the dark themes of abandonment and belonging it relies on, yet it captures the same depth and intimacy. An encapsulating success from the very start, “Broker” is at its core a scenic drive through truths of morality, motherhood and family dynamics. 

The movie follows two misguided brokers, Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo, played by Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-Won respectively, who sell orphaned infants to wealthy couples unable to go through the legal channels of adoption. Song is most prominently known for his lead role in the 2019 Academy Award winning movie “Parasite.” When the mother of an abandoned infant reappears, the trio must work together in search of a suitable home for the child, building a makeshift family of their own along the way. Meanwhile, their crime-addled pasts catch up to them in the form of two police officers trying to make their big arrest.  

The most interesting part of the movie is its complex themes of morality, belonging and family. Writer and director Hirokazu Koreeda did an incredible job making a harrowing subject matter much more palatable and even sweet at times. There is no mistaking that a plot focused on two men selling children for money is an awfully dark starting point, yet there is so much care and nuance embedded throughout that it is almost easy to ignore the crimes being committed on-screen. “Broker” is simultaneously a fascinating character study and a psychological experiment on the audiences’ perception of the characters’ morals.

The score, written by Jung Jae-il, is a dramatic yet calming addition to the film’s inherent sorrows. For a movie with so many landscapes and wide shots, the music carries viewers from one scene to another without breaking the sentimental narrative in action. Just like the rest of the film, it was a devastatingly beautiful addition to an already intricate story. 

No movie is perfect, and “Broker” did have a few setbacks. The pacing was slow and predictable, and while the humor sprinkled throughout did help to alleviate this, it still felt hard to engage with during long periods of minimal action. The dialogue was incredibly impactful, but there were moments it tried too hard to be artsy, resulting in cheesy lines that broke the audiences’ belief in the hard-hitting truths the script tried to convey.

Despite the dialogue’s occasional slip, it somehow remains one of the best aspects of the film, breaking hearts and lifting spirits as the viewer is taken along for the ride. The most moving scenes were the conversations between Dong-soo and So-young, played by Lee Ji-eun, who portrayed the characters’ vulnerability by making their lines feel raw with emotion while guarded with distrust. Nothing is said without intent and every word spoken digs a little deeper into your heart.

Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo may be the main characters, but the movie is truly So-young’s story, and Lee’s performance reflects this idea. She mastered the complexity of her character and the difficulties in her relationship with others, crafting a role you cannot help but empathize with despite the mistakes haunting her past. Lee will take your breath away while making you question everything you like about her. 

For all of the genres this movie could have been — high stakes heist, intense drama, heartfelt thriller — it was still nothing but perfect. All of the cheerful, bright elements at play turn the dark lens focused on humanity’s incessant need to belong into a lighthearted take on the found-family trope. “Broker” is a must-see movie, even if it is just to add another international film to your Letterboxd. It is a soft portrayal of hard truths, many of which you might benefit from hearing.