“Broker,” a South Korean film, plays at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, Jan. 20. Director Japanese Hirokazu Kore-eda has explored this theme before in, for instance, 2018’s Oscar-nominated “Shoplifters.” This drama has won the Ecumenical Jury Award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a Best Actor Award for Song Kang-Ho.
The film describes what happens when a young woman drops off her baby anonymously at a Busan church baby box set up for that purpose. Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), who runs a laundry business and volunteers at the church, and his friend Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) who works there part-time, run a baby theft business on the side. Deleting the church’s surveillance video, they abscond with an infant that has been left there, and decide to sell it on the baby adoption black market. The subject is real, and a controversial one in South Korea and other nations.
But the baby’s 15-year-old mother, sex-worker Moon So-young (K-pop singer Lee Jin-eun, known as IU), surprisingly returns to retrieve her abandoned baby. Angry and ambivalent about the decision despite complaining about the difficulty of raising a child as a single parent, she decides to go with them on the road in hopes of finding an acceptable adoptive family, one not caught up in the legal adoptive bureaucracy. She also hopes to share in the illegal profits. In the meantime, two detectives, Soo-Jin (Bae Doona) and Lee (Lee Joo-young), suspicious of their activities at the church, are trailing them. The catch is that they have to grab the two in the act. In a role reversal of genders, the baby snatchers are male, the cops female.
There are motives behind Sang-hyeon’s and Dong-soo’s baby theft business. It turns out Sang-hyeon is unhappily divorced, and Dong-soo grew up in an orphanage. They both hope to create a unique, makeshift new family. Hae-jin (Im Seung-soo), a perky 8-year-old orphan, hops aboard and joins in the hunt for this new kind of family.
Viewers see them find a variety of different affluent families. Some reject the baby as not looking acceptable enough. Others the would-be mother Moon So-young rejects as being inappropriate for one reason or another. Hae-jin adds to the mix of this unconventional road trip. On top of it all, Sang-hyeon is in debt to a local gang, and they are after him to pay up.
The director avoids a tough or cruel approach to baby box abandonment and these brokers. Instead, he portrays these culturally borderline characters in a poignant and empathic way. This treatment makes the film interesting and enjoyable.
Information and tickets for “Broker” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.