Review: ‘Broker,’ Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the absorbing drama stars Song Kang Ho.

'Broker' (Neon)

Who would sell a baby? More importantly: why? 

As he demonstrated in Shoplifters (2018), writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda knows that family units are not always bound by blood. Instead, some of the tightest families are those who come together for a single purpose, and then remain united for a variety of reasons, no matter the obstacles they may face.

His latest film, Broker, begins with a young woman (Lee Ji-eun) leaving a newborn child at a church’s so-called “baby box,” where loving care will, presumably, be provided thereafter. Except that two miscreants have been abusing the charitable provision for some time, stealing babies left in the overnight hours and then selling them on the black market. 

Sang-yeon (Song Kang Ho) runs a clothing repair shop and has a gambling problem; he has teamed with the younger Dong-soo (Gang Dong-wan), who works part-time at the church-run orphanage and serves as  his ‘inside man.’ They don’t know it, but they are under surveillance by two police officers, the more-experienced Soo-jin (Doona Bae) and the less-experienced Lee (Lee Joo-young), who have caught wind of their scheme and are determined to bring them to justice. 

On the night in question, Soo-jin and Lee are watching as the young woman, and follow up in the morning when she returns to the scene, where they observe her heading off with Sang-yeon and Dong-soo. Things do not go as planned, as the baby brokers, accompanied by the infant’s mother and, later, a young boy, traipse around South Korea in search of qualified buyers, with the police in slow pursuit. 

The film steadily becomes more absorbing as it moves forward, as the characters are gently fleshed out through casual conversations and memories that turn poignant, haunting, and wistful, sometimes all at the same time. Song Kang Ho, who led the family unit in the brilliant Parasite, here plays a man who isn’t much of a father, even of the criminal sort; mostly, he’s just someone who wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t know how to do it.  

The other actors are similarly fine, with Doona Bae showing a believably desperate side to match her steely determination. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite, The Wailing, Burning) captures the grungy beauties of everyday life and gorgeous landscapes that appear also at random, as finely edited by the director himself. 

From the premise, it’s easy to expect something routine or tawdry. Hirokazu Kore-eda is not an ordinary filmmaker, however, as the simple yet profound Broker demonstrates yet again.

The film opens at Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, January 13, via Neon. For more information about the film, visit Angelika’s official site.