London Korean Film Festival has returned for its 17th edition. From new releases to hits from renowned Korean directors, the FilmSoc Journal reviews a selection of films showing at this season’s festival.
Eesha Singh reviewsKore-eda’s intimate yet heartwarming exploration of the baby broking industry.
Thank you for being born
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s breakthrough into Korean-language cinema is likely to cause some waves. The Japanese director has chosen to return to his core theme of family through a raw exposure of the baby broking industry. Yet, this choice was surprisingly more lighthearted than its theme suggests. I had the pleasure of seeing Broker at its UK premiere during the London Korean Film Festival 2022.
A baby, Woo-Sung, is left outside Busan’s Family Church on a rainy night by his young mother, So-Young (Lee Ji-eun), while being observed by detectives Su-Jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) who are working to uncover the church’s illegal baby broking operation. When I first heard that this film dealt with baby broking, I assumed my stomach would churn at the sight of child trafficking in action. However, the brokers aren’t the bunch of hardened criminals you might expect. Dong-Soo (Gang Dong-won) and Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) team up as a part-time church employee and laundrette owner, frequented by gangsters, to collect the babies left at the church and sell them on to couples who are unable to conceive. The baby broker pair are in for a surprise when Woo-Sung’s mother, So-Young, unexpectedly returns and decides to join them in finding a suitable family for her baby. The trio set off on a road trip to find the perfect buyers.
We are fundamentally forced to question our assumptions. Over the course of the film, viewers gain a deeper understanding of the reason behind So-Young leaving her baby. Given the current political climate in the USA regarding women’s reproductive rights, I believe this film provides an important insight into why women should be free to make that choice and why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge a mother’s decision. ‘Abandoning’ a baby isn’t always out of spite or mal-intent, often it is much more complicated than that, as proven by this film. Nevertheless, I did find that So-Young’s constant indecision over whether to side with the police or the brokers’ slightly disorientating. Just as she appeared to be growing fond of the brokers, she would cooperate with the police against them in the next scene.
Broker is well-shot, but its true beauty is in the exploration of the characters’ relationships and development. What seems to be a movie about a mother abandoning her baby to profit-hungry criminals turns out to be an incredibly heartwarming film about an unconventional family. Although the pacing is slightly chop and change at times, especially with the introduction of a murder mystery subplot, the film eventually merges all the plotlines nicely together.
Though there were good performances all-round, I had a soft spot for Gang Dong-won who, as a previously jaded man and orphan, slowly grows to care for Woo-Sung and So-Young. Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be a complete review without recognising Song Kang-Ho’s performance. Receiving the Best Lead Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival this year was justified and well-deserved. After seeing his stunning performance as the father in Parasite (2019), he has only continued to excel.. He brings soul and warmth to his portrayal of the patriarch of this unconventional family, despite having been an absent father for his own daughter.
Overall, Broker struck similarities to Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (2018), which also dealt with an unconventional family and its focus on a child, except in this case the child is being sold. Hirokazu Kore-eda creates a heartwarming film from a dark topic, which makes for an enjoyable watch that brings home the true value of family, be it biological or not.
Broker will be released in cinemas on 24 Feburary 2023. Watch the trailer here: