The Movie Waffler New to VOD - BROKER | The Movie Waffler


A young mother works with a pair of child traffickers to find suitable parents for her baby.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Bae Doona, Gang Don-won, Lee Ji-eun, Song Kang-Ho, Lee Joo-young

Broker poster

I was shocked to read that writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda only discovered – and subsequently fell in love with – the films of John Ford while at a loss during the pandemic. While Kore-eda's work is clearly influenced by his compatriots Ozu and Naruse, I've always considered him the modern heir to Ford's considered, subtle, yet infinitely illuminating style of filmmaking. Before learning of Kore-eda's prior ignorance of his American predecessor, I imagined Broker might be his 3 Godfathers. Unfortunately it has more in common with Three Men and a Baby. Broker is the sort of movie you could imagine Hollywood remaking, were its central starting point not so culturally specific to South Korea, where Kore-eda finds himself working for the first time after a stint in France with The Truth.

Broker review

That cultural specificity concerns the South Korean phenomenon of "baby boxes," slots in the walls of churches where mothers can anonymously drop off their unwanted infants. So-young (Lee Ji-eun) is one such mother. Barely out of her teens, we find her leaving her baby outside a church, though for some unexplained reason she drops the kid on the ground rather than placing him in the box, an odd move considering it's such a rainy night. It's the first of several puzzling moments in a film that really could have done with a few more passes at a script that plays like a rough early draft.

Broker review

Unbeknownst to So-young, the baby ends up in the hands of child traffickers Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-wan). With the latter working the night shift at the church, the two men run a scheme where they nab infants left during the night and sell them on the black market to prospective parents who wish to avoid official channels. That might make them sound like two of the worst humans on the planet, but Kore-eda sure doesn't see it that way. In the filmmaker's usually skilled hands (sadly all thumbs here), Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo are loveable rogues, painted as the most sensitive characters in the entire film. When they agree to split the profits with So-young, who rumbles their nefarious scheme, the three set off on a road trip to find parents who can not only pay the amount required to clear Sang-hyeon's gambling debts but that also tick the boxes So-young requires of her kid's new mum and dad.

While the trio searches for suitable parents, the film similarly struggles to find its footing. Kore-eda can't settle on a tone for his movie. Much of the antics involving the central trio play like a damp version of a broad '80s Hollywood comedy – you might imagine the traffickers played by Danny DeVito and Judge Reinhold – and Kore-eda sets up comic situations that he then fumbles through his inexperience of this sort of mainstream fare. An attempt to generate suspense comes in the form of a pair of detectives (Bae Doona, Lee Joo-young) on the trail of the trio, along with gangsters looking to collect on Sang-hyeon's debts. We're never given a valid reason why we should be rooting for our nominal heroes as opposed to the authorities chasing them, and no amount of kissing babies by Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo can make us forget that they're selling kids on the black market. Conversely, Kore-eda paints a sinister picture of the world of prostitution So-young has escaped from. Regardless of your views on sex work, I'm sure you agree it pales in comparison to child trafficking!

Broker review

Kore-eda just can't seem to grasp the darkness at the heart of his fable. There are a couple of murders in the movie that are ultimately meaningless, dispensed with quickly as we return to the maudlin central narrative. There are several Korean filmmakers that you could imagine mining this scenario for black comedy in a far more effective manner than Kore-eda manages here, which makes you wish he had collaborated with a local writer on his Korean debut. It's ironic that Kore-eda was able to work in France and maintain his style, but working in the country next-door he comes off as completely foreign. What could have been a Parasite-esque blackly comic thriller that shines a light on the darker side of Korean society is instead a pale imitation of the Japanese films of Kore-eda, who this misstep aside is arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation. Like John Ford, Kore-eda is a master of summing up big ideas through small gestures, but with Broker he gets lost in a rambling plot that ultimately has very little to say beyond trite homilies about the nature of family. To see this sort of thing done well, watch any of Kore-eda's Japanese films; you may feel you're watching the work of an entirely different filmmaker.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews