SARAH LOHMANN WRITES — We often like to see the world in black-and-white terms: bad people do bad things. It is rarely so simple in reality, however. Japanese director, Hirokazu Koreeda, explores moral complexity in Broker (2022), showing how our best efforts and intentions can be disrupted by systems that work against us.
The cast of Broker includes renowned actors like Song Kang-Ho, who won Best Actor at the 75th Cannes International Film Festival, and Lee Ji-Eun, also known by her stage name IU. Its initial screening was in the Cannes’ main theater, the Lumière Theater, on May 26, 2022, and it received a 12-minute standing ovation. It was later released commercially in South Korea on June 8, 2022, and made available for streaming on platforms like Netflix later that month.
Broker follows Moon So-Young, a young mother who has decided to give her child up at a baby box—a place where someone can anonymously abandon babies at a facility that will care for them. She meets Sang-Hyeon and Dong-Soo, who sell babies on the adoption black market when returning for her son, and joins them to interview potential parents. In tandem, we follow detectives Soo-Jin and Lee as they investigate the case. The soundtrack and directing aid Broker in showing humanity in unpleasant places.
The standout element of Broker’s composition is undoubtedly its soundtrack. Written entirely by Jung Jae-Il, the score offers hopeful and melancholy accompaniment that emphasizes the story’s emotional landscape. A marked example of this is a touching scene between Dong-Soo and So-Young. The scene initially has no music, amplifying the silent moments in the conversation, but as So-Young delves deeper into her inner fears, a heartfelt piano track slips in naturally. The track, aptly titled “Forgiven,” helps communicate So-Young’s emotions even when she has trouble verbalizing them. Dong-Soo has the advantage of being in the room with So-Young, and the soundtrack bridges the gap for the audience.
The directing also leaves pockets of ambiguity to keep viewers engaged. For example, a large portion of Broker is shown through windows. These shots can have two effects.
One such shot shows a character cut off from any scene partners through a window, an additional barrier keeping them from the viewer. This gives the impression of solitude both in the world of the film and from the audience.
The other type shows a character alone but linked to the outside, using a window as a backdrop. This expresses both isolation and a connection to the world beyond. These two types of scenes expose that the difference between two opposite situations can simply be perspective.
Broker explores complexity in story and form. It sheds a delicate light on some of humanity’s most jagged edges and is a must-watch for anyone searching for a spot of light during dark times.
Sarah Lohmann graduated from Knox College with a BA in Creative Writing and Asian Studies. She focused her research on film, translation, and literature.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.