'Broker' Review: Kore-Eda Hirokazu's Road Dramedy Finds Song Kang-Ho Stealing Babies
Nothing suspicious going on here, just some babies and large amounts of money for some reason. Director-writer-editor Kore-eda Hirokazu returns with his new road dramedy Broker (브로커 in Korean) which finds its characters involved in black market for newborn babies. Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is a small business owner, who with his accomplice Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), steals babies from nearby church's baby box in order to sell them to couples who can't have babies on their own. After one young mother with a secretive past, So-young (Lee Ji-eun), comes back for hers, they team up and go on a road trip to find possible buyers. Later an orphan named Hae-jin (Im Seung-soo) joins them while detectives Lee (Lee Joo-young) and Soo-jin (Bae Doona) attempt to catch them in the act.
As is always important with movies that take their story to the road and feature a lot of driving and multiple locations, the feeling that you're along for the ride with your characters is crucial, whether or not there's a specific destination either physically or emotionally. Kore-eda creates this kind of bubble mostly as an editor as there's no rush to get to big scenes or danger with our main characters, plot being secondary since the initial relationships that form seem to be most important for the filmmaker.
Maybe it's because of a language barrier or something else but Kore-eda rarely manages to get any further than that since he really struggles with characters and making them have engaging conversations. Women in the movie particularly are offensively old-fashioned at best and at their worst his writing for them sounds like an old man explaining their struggles without actual interest in their past or future. It's clear that Kore-eda is trying to hit a certain emotional pitch here but instead it is either manipulative or too writerly to ever connect properly.
Performances sadly suffer from that disconnect as Lee Ji-eun can't make anything out of her cardboard character, Song is off tonally for most of it and Lee Joo-young and Bae are merely observers rather than active participants even when it's just two of them on the screen. Surprisingly it's the young Im who occasionally manages to draw some laughs and genuinely heartfelt reactions. Similarly lost is composer Jung Jae-il's score which also isn't meeting the tone that Kore-eda is reaching for, often just sluggishly underscoring meaningless discussions that don't flesh out these characters; instead it all is just a big, dull writing exercise.
Smileys: Pacing, Im Seung-soo
Frowneys: Characterisation, dialogue, score
Unboxing a new baby (not clickbait).