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Still feeling a little burned out from the fall semester last month, I treated myself to a day off last month and wandered into a matinee of the Korean movie Broker. I didn’t really know what to expect but found myself unexpectedly moved. 

The film’s plot revolves around a pair of brokers, Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo, who take infants left in baby boxes (in their case at the church where one of them works) and sell them to wealthy couples looking to circumvent long waits for legal adoption. The baby boxes are supposed to be a safe way for people to anonymously drop off a baby and ensure it is cared for, but Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo have turned it into a money-making (and criminal) enterprise.

Usually they’re able to pull off their scheme without any issue. However, in this case, the baby’s mother, So-young, returns, wondering where her baby, Woo-sung, has ended up. Ultimately, she decides to tag along with Sang-hyeon and Dong-soo and help them select the potential parents for her infant son. I don’t want to spoil anything but So-young has also found herself on the wrong side of the law, and while the three are searching for parents to sell her baby to, they are also trying to avoid the authorities.

Along the way, they pick up Hae-jin, a young boy who lives at the same orphanage where Dong-soo grew up and who runs away to join them on what’s turning into an unlikely family road trip. They’re a group of misfits – criminals, runaways, orphans – none of them with any real family of their own. But over the course of the film they become an odd sort of family, thrown together by fate and by their terrible circumstances. Despite their flaws and the fact that they’re trying to sell a baby on the adoption black market, it’s hard not to root for them.

The scene that has most stuck with me came near the end of the film. They’re all together in a small hotel room, and the authorities are closing in. The group has been discussing how So-young rarely speaks to her son, and she finally relents. With the lights dimmed, she starts speaking. First to Hae-jin, Sang-hyeon, and Dong-soo – thank you for being born. Then to her baby, Woo-sung – thank you for being born. After she finishes, Hae-jin echoes the words back to her  – thank you for being born. All of their lives are a mess and we know at this point of the film that each of them is essentially alone in the world. But this scene offered a moment of connection and gratitude in the middle of it all.

It’s not necessarily a happy story with a happy ending but I loved how the film highlighted the importance of chosen family and making connections even in the midst of the mess of life. Though no one else seems to care for these characters and though each of them has some pretty major flaws, they are able to recognize the dignity in each other and the love and connection they each longed for. And the film, in turn, pushes us to do the same — to be empathetic first with these complicated characters but also with each other and with ourselves.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She earned her doctorate in history from Boston College, Her research explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence in subsequent years. Though she swore she'd move back to the Midwest after grad school, Allison still resides in the Boston metro area and now works in academic advising at Tufts University.

One Comment

  • Rodney Havrman says:

    Found family is a powerful narrative.
    You could say it’s the story of the church. A rag tag mix of misfits and sinners all drawn together by a loving, gracious man who shows us what we’re worth. All we need to do is believe it, and we have our family, not an easy family, but a community of misfits and sinners nonetheless.

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