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South Korea Makes History at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

It was a historical win at the Cannes Film Festival this year when Song Kang-ho (Parasite), star of Broker, became the first Korean male actor to win the Best Actor award. The film also won plaudits when it took home the Ecumenical Jury Award for Best Film. At a press conference held before those giant wins, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who won the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 2018 with Shoplifters, and who had won the Jury Prize five years prior for Like Father Like Son, spoke about his latest project.

Broker is the story of black-market adoption. It centers on a woman (Ji-eun Lee) who leaves her baby in what is referred to as a ‘baby box’ at a church in the city of Busan, where women unable or unwilling to look after a newborn resort to this form of adoption. She leaves a note saying ‘I’ll be back for you.’ In the interim, two workers on call (Kang-ho and Dong-won) decide to spring into action right away and take the baby with them. When the mother has a change of heart and comes back for her child, Broker becomes a road movie of sorts.


The film boasts a stellar cast, which includes Ji-eun Lee (Hotel Del Luna), Joo-Young Lee (Times), and Dong-won Gang (Peninsula).

The famed director, known for delving into very complex family-oriented material, biological or otherwise, talks about his interest in this controversial subject. “This film tells the story of a family which came together by choice. They board this car and set off on a trip, as though by chance, together. So, indeed, I wanted to draw the portrait of a family where members chose to belong to that family,” he said. “Each of the characters has committed offenses or more major crimes, and they end up together. They try for once in their life to do something good, to a greater or lesser degree. They finally think of others. They try to be kind. I wanted to depict this common desire through the trip they embark on together.”

While the baby thieves/kidnappers are certainly perpetrating criminal activity in stealing the baby, they have altruistic intentions. Most babies who are left in a baby box are sent to orphanages, never to be adopted. Kore-eda was interested in the duality of the kidnappers. “I love these contrasts. To play the main part, Song Kang-ho is the ideal person because he has these two sides.”

While the subject matter is decidedly tragic, Kore-eda sees the actions through a comedic and, at times, sentimental lens. “It’s something I always try to do, whatever the story I’m telling. If things are very serious, I want to inject a lighter note. If things are very light, I want to inject a more serious note.” The central characters all have a tough life and I wanted to have a bit of comedy to add levity.”

The dichotomy of the criminals, whose hearts are in the right place, rings true with Kore-eda. “I do believe in the potential of human beings. I’d like to believe that, in their innermost depth, people are actually kind and good. If I can, I always try to underscore this. I wanted to do this particularly in this tale because there’s a baby. I wanted to show the tenderness people have, and their beauty.” He added: “Sometimes you have to adopt in an illegal way, depending on the circumstances. You can’t always abide by the law. It’s for the sake of the baby that some offenses are being committed and people are not obeying the law. Beauty doesn’t necessarily have to mean justice or leading a straight life.”

The very notion of a baby box might be unfamiliar to many in the United States but, according to The New Yorker, the first safe-haven law, known as the ‘Baby Moses’ law, was passed in Texas in 1999 after a slew of abandoned babies were found. Unsurprisingly, the idea has its detractors, especially because an infant can be given away without parental consent.

Kore-eda confirmed that general sentiment at the Cannes press gathering. “The baby box is quite a controversial thing in Japan and Korea. Public opinion hasn’t really decided whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I believe that this is a very controversial topic. It deserves careful thought, in any event. A lot of people have preconceived ideas about women who give up their children.”

But the director’s goal in making Broker was not to influence people on this conundrum. He didn’t want to preach.

“The two hours of the film are to open up people’s minds. I didn’t want to give my answer in any way or change people’s minds. Through the characters, people in the audience can ask themselves the question, ’What do I really think?’”