Kore-eda Hirokazu’s skill, on display here as in Shoplifters, is presenting found families — those cleaved together by choice rather than blood — in a way that feels both natural and intimate, with an excellent cast led by Parasite’s Song Kang-ho. Broker again explores this through good-hearted criminals, in this case a pair who obtain abandonned babies and sell them to families wishing to adopt. The film’s complications arise from two angles: a mother returning to recover her baby and two police officers hunting down the illegal brokers. Kore-eda’s script is compassionate toward the varying reasons for which mothers may make the difficult decision to give up children, whilst exploring the characters’ reasons for having strong views — particularly Dong-Soo upon returning to the orphanage where he grew up. Broker is a gentle, charming film even as the audience knows it cannot end happily for everyone. The dynamic of its makeshift family is not as nuanced as Shoplifters, but Broker is still a highly effective piece of cinema as Kore-eda continues to hone his craft away from the standard fare.
At his core, Bong Joon Ho tells dark fables, whether they are original stories like Okja or visually arresting adaptations like Snowpiercer. Parasite may have a more realistic setting but its contrivances develop with the sense of otherworldly allegory and stark contrasts that imbue Jordan Peele’s films, from the sun-filled spacious architecture of the affluent Parks’ house to the Kims’ cramped basement home. Tone is vital to this kind of social satire. Initially Parasite is a light-hearted con as an out-of-work family gradually grift their way into the employ of a wealthy one. A middle sequence in which one family hides from another in a house is reminiscent of Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron, with absurd comedy underpinned by violent stakes. This shift becomes increasingly dark and out-of-control as greed, expectation and resentment bubble to the surface. Parasite nails its pacing, feeling briefer than its running time of over two hours; this, coupled with its wonderful cinematography and accessible, highly relevant class satire, has secured its international acclaim.
“If you can’t remember then it’s better to forget.”
Snowpiercer is fresh high-concept science fiction that arrived a few years ahead of its time with an admittedly unsubtle allegorical tale of climate-induced revolution as the destitute rise up. Director Joon-Ho Bong adapts a French graphic novel with a confident blend of Korean and Western sensibilities that needs to be viewed texturally in the manner of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam. Logical interrogation of the implausible story will invariably lead to disappointment, but the violent journey through this train — hurtling ceaselessly through a frozen wasteland — is filled with tension and fabulous imagery. The revolution’s success seems ever balanced on a knife-edge, but as they advance each carriage presents its own distinctive diorama full of wonderful details. Chris Evans carries the audience as the reluctant hero, supported by a host of venerable British talent, including John Hurt and a riotously hammy Tilda Swinton. More than the sum of its parts, it was perhaps inevitable that the creative yet bleak Snowpiercer left critics more enamoured than audiences.