FIN FEST REVIEW: Korean road film a contemplative view on familial bonds

The first thing I’ll say about Hirokazu Koreeda’s new film is it’s almost impossible to define.

What he’s managed to do here is make a beautiful, cohesive piece of art that transcends the boundaries of genre. In doing so, he left the emotions of the audience all over the place.

From uproarious laughter to muffled sniffles, no one can say Koreeda’s road trip film won’t make the audience feel something.

At the centre of Broker is So-Young, who leaves her baby Woo-sung outside a baby box. She realizes – for reasons I won’t disclose – she cannot take care of him. These boxes are set up all over Korea for women to leave their young in, no questions asked, and the babies will go to orphanages or be fostered out.

Baby boxes in Seoul, South Korea, have been a topic of discussion in the media lately, and this film puts a devilish twists on things. The box leaves baby Woo-sung in the care of Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo, who steal and then plan to sell the baby to the highest bidder.

But when So-young comes back for her child, finding no record he was found in the box, a moral question comes into play. Does she have right to a baby she’s abandoned? If these men find a good home for the child, is it all that bad a thing if they make a profit?

What makes Broker so good is that characters – every single one – are neither good or evil. They all live in a grey area. So when the three of them go on a road trip with the baby to find a suitable adoptee – and make some cash – it leaves the audience entirely conflicted.

Koreeda’s film is chalk-full of ethical dilemmas, and nothing is as simple as picking one answer or another. The implications are boundless. If the three are arrested for exploiting the child, then Woo-sung is placed in an orphanage, with little hope of a new home. If they succeed, they are criminals.

This movie works because of committed performances from Ji-eun Lee, Dong-won Gang, and Song Kang-ho, the latter of whom won Best Actor at Cannes.

But the brightest performance comes from Im Seung-soo as Hae-jin, a young orphan who stows away in the van the group are traveling in. He joins the journey in hopes of finding a family too.

Broker is an ethically-complex little film, but one I enjoyed thoroughly. It’s going to require another viewing to take it all in, and I can’t wait.

4/5 Stars

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