The story starts with a baby box which both Japan and Korea have used to make it easier for women to abandon their children anonymously. We see two men looking at a note which states I will return met with sarcastic doubts. At the same time there are two women in a car that are videotaping the abandonment and then following the women to her home.
We soon realize the police suspect illegal adoptions from the church where the baby box was located. The two women are police officers who are planning to set up a sting operation. They are able to coerce some co-operation from the woman, Moon So-young. Later we learn they have lined up a couple to adopt the baby outside legal procedures.
The two men are very familiar with the procedures and much of the psychology involved. One man Don-soo works in the orphan nursery and the other Ha Sang-hyun owns a laundry store (and does sewing jobs) is the broker. When they decide circumstances are right (usually involving an interested couple) they set things up and negotiate.
Complications add to the plot. The reason the woman abandoned the baby was that she had just murdered the abusive father and needed to flee the city. It turns out the father's widow, fairly wealthy when she learned about the birth decided she wanted to raise the child and hired an agent to approach the broker. The two men were confronted with two offers, but felt the wealthy widow who offered more money should be rejected as she was too old to raise a child. Negotiations dragged on with various issues and it ended up that Moon So-young accompanied the two men on a trip to check out the prospective couple's ability to bring up the baby. The two police woman were following and were aware of the murder.
Along the way the viewer gets a glimpse into the two brokers and the mother with lots of observations about raising children. Accompanying the three of them is a charming 8 year old boy who endears himself to all of them and it is realized he is too old to be adopted. There are a few twists that make you want to see it through to the end.
There were a lot of very talented people involved to make this a very memorable film that also won international awards including at Cannes. Here are some of the key ones.
Kore-eda Hirokazu, the writer, director and editor has a history of films revolving around unusual families and giving nuanced interpretations. Interesting background is that is father lived in Taiwan and was recruited for the Japanese army and later detained in Siberia. His grandparents had fled to Taiwan as they were unable to marry in Japan. Early he became an assistant director for tv. documentaries. Some of his film credits include "After Life" (1998), "Still Walking" (2008), "Like Father, Like Son" (2013), "Our Little Sister" (2015), "Third Murder" (2017) and "Shoplifters" (2018). He wrote and directed his first film not in the Japanese language "The Truth" (2019). Winner of over 100 international awards and much admired by Roger Ebert.
Jung Jae-il provided the music. Other credits are for "Okja" (2017), "Parasite" (2019) and "Squid Game" (2021). see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/10/squid-game.html
Hong Kyung-pyo handled the cinematography. Other credits include "Mother" (2009), "Snowpiercer" (2013), "The Wailing" (2017) and "Burning" (2018).
Song Kang ho is one of those rare creatures that rises from supporting roles to lead roles with little reference to romance. He is also one actor with his own post http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/song-kang-ho.html which gives a fuller picture of his stature. But since then learned a few more things. He is a heavily awarded actor including a Cannes award for this role as the broker and is revered by many directors. He started in theatre at one time offering to work cleaning services to maintain working for the theatre. In 2020 the New York Times compiled a list of the top international actors and he was listed as number 6. With a slight hiatus he has been active in commercials and was noted for increasing sales of a liquor in Japan. Some of his film credits include "Joint Security Area" (2000), "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2003), "The Host" (2006), "Thirst" (2009), "The Attorney" (2013), "The Age of Shadows" (2016) "Snowpiercer" (2013) and "Parasite" (2019). See http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html
Gang Dong-won played the partner to the broker. He has had a leading role in 20 films with an accumulated attendance of 67,000,000 making him first of Korean actors in their 30's. He is physically good looking and athletic starting as a model including work in Paris.
Je-eun Lee played Moon So-young. She has been one of the leading pop singers (usually under the name IU) in Korea where the emphasis has been on groups. She has performed in Japan and her records have sold well there. She has also been a song writer and contributed to the soundtrack album for "Crash Landing on You" She was selected for this role after Kore-eda watched her performance in "My Mister" (2018). She has also been very successful with commercials. Check http://www.th\erealjohndavidson.com/2021/01/my-mister-is-slow-drama-with-emotional.html
Lee Joo Young played one of the police detectives. She was selected after Kore-eda watched her in "Itaewon Class" (2020). Another film credit is for "Something in the Rain" (2018).
Bae Doona played the other police officer. A break for her was when Bong Joon Ho for a role because she was the only one available who didn't insist on using makeup for a scene. She has played in Korean, Japanese, English and French roles. Her film credits include "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002), "Linda, Linda, Linda" (2003), "The Host" (2006) and "Cloud Atlas" (2012).
Kim Sun-young played the orphanage director's wife. She has had roles in and Crash Landing on You" (2019) and "Three Sisters" (2020). See http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html
Seung-soo Im plays the 8 year old orphan, Hae-jin who accompanies the mother and the two partners in crime. It might seem an unnecessary role, but not only is he charming, but he fits in. He represents a problem for orphans, but he alters the dynamics of the adults.
Recently it has become available on Netflix with subtitles. 188 countries have bought rights to the film. Wikipedia as well as IMDB was very useful for the research behind this post.
As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.