Review
Culture
3 min read

Thank you for being born

A thermonuclear ethical debate swaddled in a family road-trip comedy. Daniel Kim reviews Broker.

Daniel is an advertising strategist turned vicar-in-training.

Three people, one carrying a baby, stand on a dock side at a harbour
The brokers await a meeting with prospective buyers.

In 2009, a Korean pastor at Jusarang Community Church installed a small, two-way, hatch on the wall of his church. One way opened out onto the street where mothers could place unwanted babies anonymously and inconspicuously. On the other side, the child would be taken into a nursery, cared for, and put up for adoption. By 2019, over 1,500 babies were left in this ‘Baby Box’ and the scheme has spread out across Korea and other surrounding countries. Since then, it has continually raised challenging ethical, pragmatic, and social questions in the media. What about the legality and safeguarding of this scheme? What about the possibility of corruption and bad actors? Does it incentivise irresponsible motherhood? Is it better to abandon a baby than to abort it? Least to say, the topic is one that spins off into many controversial and toe-curling conversations.  

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker is a film that is equally about all of these things, and also none of them. After a young woman decides to abandon her newborn child at a Baby Box she discovers that a pair of criminal ‘brokers’ are at work who take these children and sells them to childless parents. She decides to join them on the search for the right ‘customers’.  

If the premise conjures up images of a grim existential drama, you would be mistaken. If I were to describe this movie in two words, it would be ‘intimate’ and ‘humane’. It is not a moralising hit-you-over-the-head polemic. Instead, it is a thermonuclear ethical debate swaddled up in a warm, slice-of-life, road-trip comedy. Yet it manages to do this without feeling contrived or losing the empathetic depth required to do the topic justice. It humanises the ethics and portrays them in a heartwarming yet unsentimental narrative. For this alone, the writer-director Kore-eda deserves his plaudits. Rarely does the film feel heavy.  

Broker trailer

The tone of the film is measured and meditative without dragging. The lingering and deliberate cinematography doesn’t overstay its welcome and contributes to the calming, road-trip atmosphere of the film. There are some particularly memorable compositions during key dialogue scenes that will leave an impression - The Ferris Wheel. You’ll know what I mean.  

Set in predominantly rural coastal towns, the camera writes a subtle love letter to the South Korean coast. And at a time when the films that manage to gain wider Western viewership are heavy, Seoul-centric dramas, it is refreshing to see a film that points the camera to the rural coastline and celebrates its understated but lived-in beauty. In this way, the Japanese influences of the director shine through.  

The performances are strong all around. The ever-reliable Song Kang-ho of Parasite brings in a reserved yet dialled-in performance as a good-natured yet morally dubious broker which is worthy of his Best Actor award at Cannes 2022. Yet Ji-eun Lee’s performance deserves particular attention. Playing the mother, she inhabits the emotional core of the film with convincing depth and complexity. This is particularly impressive given that it is a debut performance in a feature film. The writing is gently comedic and delightful while being doggedly committed to portraying its characters as they truly are - in shades of grey and emotional complexity. Tackling such a thorny issue would have run the risk of characters becoming mere caricatures in the hands of a less sensitive screenwriter. 

To the question, what am I worth if I was abandoned, orphaned, divorced, poor, morally compromised, or whatever else? the film responds thank you for being born. 

The film does not seek to paint ethics in black and white clarity, resisting any effort to politicise or polemicise. Despite this, the core of the film is a celebration of life, an exploration of the meaning of family, and an unflinching affirmation of the inviolable value of the human individual. To the question, what am I worth if I was abandoned, orphaned, divorced, poor, morally compromised, or whatever else? the film responds: thank you for being born.  

From a Christian perspective, this was refreshing. Rarely does a film portray human complexity without cynicism. The ‘ethics of Life’ has made its foray into the cinema scene several times in the last few years including Ozan’s drama exploring euthanasia, Everything Went Fine (2021), or the more widely known Me Before You back in 2016 delving into similar waters. They bring with them their own nuanced perspectives, but they trend towards the possibility of death being more desirable than life. Into this conversation, Broker provides an uncomfortable yet much-needed counterpoint in which life wins. The film doesn’t glorify or heroise the Church's efforts, playing only a minor background element. Instead, it is the story of complicated, broken people stumbling through the best they can. 

Broker debuted in Cannes 2022, releasing in South Korean cinemas in June, but has only just made it into cinemas in the UK. It will probably not gain wider cinema openings like Parasite did, but if you have a chance to watch it at your local independent cinema, you are in for a heartwarming, meditative, and intimate experience, dripping with humanity. 

The real Baby Box

Column
Character
Culture
Economics
4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.