Exploring Family Drama ‘Broker’ with Director Hirokazu Kore-eda

What makes a family? Director Hirokazu Kore-eda frequently explores the complexity of family, and his latest film Broker is another addition to his body of work that contemplates the many forms of family. This film was inspired by the concept of the baby box, a safe place where people can anonymously leave their baby to be found and cared for by others. Broker revolves around a young mother (Lee Ji-eun) who gives up her baby in hopes of giving him a better life, two men (Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won) who illegally sell abandoned babies on the adoption black market, and a detective (Bae Doona) who seeks to catch the brokers in the act. Along the way, these characters change their perspectives and form unlikely bonds that tie them together.

Created as a companion piece to Shoplifters, Broker is similar in that they both examine outcasts who find family within each other. However, one core difference is the role that police play in both films. While the police tear the makeshift family apart in Shoplifters, Soo-jin, the main detective on the case in Broker, unwittingly sets the whole film in motion by placing the abandoned baby in the baby box. She does so to capture evidence of the brokers selling the baby, yet she ultimately saves the baby for the mother and keeps hope alive for a family reunion.

“When I initially wrote the short plot of the film, it actually started with the mother putting the baby into the baby box. However, I realized the film was depicted not from the mother’s point of view, but from the detective’s point of view, following her journey through the end,” shared Kore-eda. At the beginning of the film, Soo-jin doesn’t understand why a mother would have a child if she can’t take care of one, and she condemns the brokers for their illegal activity. As she chases the three and comes to understand their motivations and intentions, she develops compassion for them and the unfortunate circumstances. “When Soo-jin picks up the baby and puts him in the baby box, it’s so she can have evidence and capture the two brokers. Yet at the end when Soo-jin picks up the baby to cradle him, she looks at him as family,” Kore-eda shared. “I really wanted to contrast those two scenes.” Looking at how Soo-jin’s perspective has changed, the director added, “it would have been unthinkable for her to cradle the baby at the beginning.”

Kore-eda also cited Korean actor Song Kang-ho as the inception of Broker: “I wrote the screenplay with him in mind from the beginning, and on the set he showed such a great performance that it continually stimulated me, the writer-director.” Well-versed in playing father characters in other films including Host and Parasite, Song brings the well-meaning yet flawed father to life as the broker Sang-hyun. He’s easygoing, friendly and caring when he’s around the ragtag family, especially as a father figure to the surprise addition to the group, runaway orphan Hae-jin. However, the film offers a surprise reveal that Sang-hyun struggles to hold onto his actual family. There’s only one poignant scene that features Sang-hyun’s disintegrating relationship with his daughter and estranged wife, but it’s enough to point out the stark contrast to the unconventional, yet harmonious bond between the young mother and the brokers. “The film deals with serious issues, but there are positive, humorous comedic elements that Song Kang-ho brings through how he naturally is,” Kore-eda shared. “He has that light comedic personality that really shines through.”

Broker offers a contemplative view into what qualifies as family and whether letting go or holding onto each other is the ultimate form of love in a world where nuances can make all the difference. While there are times in the film that the pieces fit together too neatly to feel like it’s a realistic portrayal of unlikely people coming together to beat the odds, Kore-eda shows once again that a family found is a family indeed.

Mai Nguyen

Editor-in-Chief at Asia Pacific Arts.
Feel free to send me a note on Twitter to @hellomailee.

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