Thursday, August 4, 2022

Baby Box

Broker (2022) - Kore-eda Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 10.54.41 AM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 1.15.43 PM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 12.08.47 PM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 11.42.31 AM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 12.15.51 PM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 12.40.56 PM Screen Shot 2022-08-03 at 1.17.50 PM Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's foray into working internationally continues with Broker, a Korean set family drama with all Korean cast. The director of films that prodded the traditional notion of family, such as Nobody Knows, Like Father Like Son, After the Storm and Shoplifters, continues with Broker, about a heartfelt makeshift family, which feels like a grittier and edgier version of its predecessor, Shoplifters. It seems that the film is the culmination of Kore-eda's desire to work with Korean actors within the booming Korean film industry (produced by CJ Entertainment) despite not speaking the language. Broker is a beautifully written and acted film that has just as much emotional resonance as his many celebrated Japanese films.

It's a rainy night in Busan, where a young mother, Soyoung (Lee Jieun, aka IU, a K-pop superstar) abandoning her newborn baby in front of a church. There is a baby box at the entrance where a unwanted baby can be dropped annonymously. The hesitant mother drops right in front of the box and runs away, not knowing she is watched by two law inforcement agents (Bae Doona and Lee Juyoung) who have been doing a sting operation on the suspected baby-selling, broker operation by the church workers and also by Sanghyeon (Song Kangho) and Dongsoo (Gang Dongwon) who was looking at the monitor inside the Church. They find the note with the baby by Soonjin that she will come back to fetch him soon. No date or contact info. So starts Broker, an ensemble piece with superb acting from everybody involved. It becomes a road movie as Soojin comes back to claim the baby and gets involved in underground baby broker business with Sanghyeon and Dongsoo, as they try to find a suitable parents-to-be for the baby (at the highest price). Boys can pull in upwards of 10,000,000 won ($76,000) and girls only half that. With the baby and an orphan boy from the orphanage where Dongsoo grew up, they make a makeshift family, traveling all over southern part of Korea to meet possible adopters.

These are all down and out characters whose lives have been nothing but rosy. Kore-eda draws sharply on their resentment and distrust in each other in the beginning, but slowly builds on their commonality and innate human decency. The biggest change of heart moment belongs to Bae Doona's Soojin, a veteran police woman whose hatred of Soyoung, from "Why even have a baby, only to abandon it?" to understanding people's circumstances as to why the decision was made. It also turns out Soyoung is on the run because she accidentally killed the rich baby daddy who didn't want the baby.

In a polarized era where abortion is much politicized, Broker might be seen as naive by not putting emphasis on the issue. But it has some sharp criticism on our modern society putting blames soley on women and lack of men's involvement in raising one and our collective role in raising neglected ones in general. In a very touching scene, the orphan boy who hid himself in Sanghyeon's old van to sneak out of the orphanage, asks Soyoung to give a prayer before they all go to sleep in a hotel room. So Soyoung thanks everyone for being born. We do not have a say in us being born. Our circumstances might be different. But we are all here so we might as well give thanks.

Song Kangho is wonderful as usual. He portrayal of Sanghyeon, a divorced man dreaming of his past, gives much humanity and subtle humor, very much resembling Lily Franky in Shoplifters. Bae Doona is also great as a cold hearted detective slowly realizing that criminals are not so different than the rest of us that they are just trying to get by. We also get to see her eat a lot of junkfood in the car and being mean to her underling. The real acting revelation is Lee Jieun as a young mom. Her bitterness, her anxious stares tell thousands stories. Her looks convey both volatility and hidden tenderness.

I did not know that Baby Box was a thing. And that there is a black market for babies for chidless parents who don't want to go through legal huddles to adopt. And there are so many orphans who grow up dreaming of their mother returning to pick them up. All these nicely fit Kore-eda universe of what consitutes a 'family'. Just like Shoplifters, everyone in Broker knows that they won't get a second chance at having a family. Everyone knows that good things will not last. What counts is the human connections made by this particular brokering and the extended parenting it created. That the kid will be all right.

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