If there is one image from Parasite that sticks with me, it’s the face of Song Kang-Ho, working with ferocious determination, as the rest of his family goof off near the beginning of the film. Parasite is of course packed with memorable images – but above all, it’s that incredible face, the face of one of South Korea’s most recognisable and dependable stars, who has appeared in so many of that nation’s crossover hits that his name has become synonymous with ‘South Korean Cinema’ abroad. As the actor has grown older, his face has attained a fatherly warmth, lined and creased, rich with familiarity and kindness when he breaks into a smile. A good director is able to hide a lot of complexity in that incredible face – and Hirokazu Kore-eda is one such director.
Kore-eda is a Japanese filmmaker – one of the most prolific and beloved of that country’s modern artists, the visionary behind Shoplifters, Nobody Knows, Like Father Like Son, and my personal favourite, After Life. With his new film, Broker, he transfers his talent to South Korea to tell the story of ‘baby boxes’, a real-life phenomenon in which desperate mothers can leave their babies safely nestled in a protected box, where an attendant will then take the baby in and care for them. It’s a challenging idea, one that invokes debates that have raged about motherhood, adoption, abortion and responsibility that have raged on for centuries. It’s one of only a few times that Kore-eda has filmed outside of his home country (another recent offering being the France-set The Truth, a minor but delectable little morsel) – but the richness of the subject matter is evidently irresistible, particularly for a filmmaker so interested in concepts of family and parenthood.
The latest from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda functions as a companion piece to his Palme D’Or winning Shoplifters, another warm and melancholic drama about an unorthodox family of underclass drifters. Thornier and more complex than that earlier film, and featuring a medley of stunning performances, it’s an under-the-radar gem.
The story follows two men, Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-Ho) and Dong-Soo (Gang Dong-won), who run a laundromat near to a baby box in Busan. By night, they thieve the babies from the box, later selling the babies on the adoption black market. On paper, it’s an abhorrent practice – on screen, Kore-eda, who is a master at crafting unorthodox families of outcasts and drifters, finds warmth, love and tenderness in the bond the two men form with the baby they’ve stolen, and eventually the mother who left him (a tremendous Lee Ji-eun). These are people scratching out a living in an economically strained, working class area, committed to finding the right adoptive parents for the abandoned child, even as they profit off the baby. All the while, they are surveilled and followed by a pair of police detectives (including Wachowski regular Doona Bae) determined to stop the two traffickers.
It’s clearly a complex and even disturbing setup for a film with such gentle and minor aspirations, but to Kore-eda’s credit, as with companion film Shoplifters, he refuses to give in to easy sentimentality or put up barriers against the real world limitations of this kind of situation. Kore-eda is an exceptionally sensitive filmmaker, finding a sweet spot between documentary-esque observation and masterfully framed moments of real cinematic beauty. He’s found a wonderful star in Song Kang-Ho, who offers a kind of flipside to his Parasite character – a far less crafty but far more fatherly and gentle persona for him to inhabit. Kore-eda has arguably covered this ground before, his oeuvre packed with ramshackle families, precarious living, cute children and humanistic, subtle direction. Though it may be a case of a master playing the hits, sometimes there are opportunities to find new angles, fresh nuances you never noticed before, in retracing your creative steps. In a cinema landscape of cynical IP-based regurgitations and ‘ambitious’ indie projects that are merely monuments to their own technical prowess, a film as assured, emotionally rich and satisfyingly executed as Broker is a breath of fresh air.
Broker in cinemas now.
Movie title: Broker (Kore-eda, 2022)
Movie description: The latest from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda functions as a companion piece to his Palme D’Or winning Shoplifters, another warm and melancholic drama about an unorthodox family of underclass drifters. Thornier and more complex than that earlier film, and featuring a medley of stunning performances, it’s an under-the-radar gem.
Date published: March 9, 2023
Country: South Korean
Author: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Director(s): Kore-eda Hirokazu
Actor(s): Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, IU
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama