Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker is a film dedicated to defying the preconceived notions that surround some of our most sensitive cultural topics — specifically that of family, motherhood, and childhood. The film opens with a young woman, So-young (K-pop star Lee Ji-eun, who performs under the name IU), dropping her baby off in a baby box, a location where one can safely and anonymously leave their child.
Immediately, we see a collection of judgments passed about So-young’s acceptable choice, all of them pessimistic at best, and some distinctly judgmental. Detective Soo-jin (Bae Doona) dismissively announces to her partner that she thinks one simply shouldn’t have a baby if one can’t care for them (which is perhaps our most delusional cultural opinion regarding motherhood and children). Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who run an illicit black market selling some of the baby box children (a practice that sounds far scarier than it is, as the duo mainly just give babies to kind couples who cannot afford traditional pathways), justify their selling of this baby by stating that the fact that his mother left a note announcing she was promising to return — something the two claim only happens once every forty times the promise is made — means the child will be perennially trapped in foster care and orphanages instead of being given a new, actual home.
The detective with the sneaking suspicion that this specific baby box may be being improperly used to sell babies on the black market, the two well-meaning men who are indeed partaking in that practice, and the mother quickly returning to check on her child (yet inexplicably unwilling to take her baby back) all form either the longest, most unaware cat-and-mouse chase you’ve ever seen, or the strangest conditions ever created for a road-trip film. Because that is what Broker soon becomes: a sort of twisted vacation road-trip film, as So-young, Sang-hyeon, and Dong-soo drive across the country to sell her baby, with Detective Soo-jin and her partner in hot, but legally sticky, pursuit.
Despite these somewhat miserable and strange conditions, the film is, more than anything, light and sweet in its presentation of immense difficulty. The vast majority of Broker seems dedicated to the notion that, where there is presumed ill-intent, love and empathy actually reside and, where there is black-and-white judgment — about illegal practices or motherhood or even just basic human relationships — there is, in fact, often an aching, empathetic nuance.
Life is not easy for any of these characters. The film doesn’t provide a quintessential happy ending, but this feels fitting in the same way that Broker is not a quintessential road film, a quintessential detective story, or a quintessential found-family narrative. Instead, Kore-eda brings his own sort of bittersweet realism to a strange little tale: life is not perfect — in fact, it is quite hard — but there are slices of something very good to be found in just about any circumstance, even ones of forceful loss or complicated grief.