Director; Hun Jang. Starring; Kang-Ho Sang, Thomas Kretschmann, Hae-Jin You. Rated R. Color. 137 Minutes.
“A Taxi Driver” is one of those pictures you discover that changes your perspective on a world you know little about. This is why I love movies more than anything. Escapism is one thing, but no other art form can open ones eyes to the world both historically and currently like cinema. Enter “A Taxi Driver”, a brilliant South Korean film from director Hun Jang that has recently been added on Amazon Prime. This picture is funny, heartwarming, disturbing, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring. You will laugh, think, and cry while watching “A Taxi Driver” in all of the best and worst ways.
No question there was some resistance when this film was released, particularly in the smaller community of South Korea that is Gwangju. I cannot speak on what those people and victims went through during the 1979-80 uprising in Gwangju as the assassination of dictator Park Chung-Hee had the younger generation desperate for a democracy. That was not the case as Gen. Chun Doo-Hwan declared martial law over the city, not allowing any media coverage to be released with the city in chaos. Many journalists disappeared. It was the same thing all over again. “A Taxi Driver” addresses this conflict head on, and yet finds a way to tell a story of two unlikely friends caught in the middle.
Kang-ho Song (star of the Oscar winning “Parasite”) plays Kim Man-Seob, a widower cab driver down on his luck. He is 100,000 Won in debt to his landlord while also trying to raise his daughter alone. At the same time, Juergen Hinspeter (Thomas Kretschmann), a German journalist for the GBC, has heard of an uprising in South Korea. After flying to the country, Hinspeter is looking for a cab that will take him to Gwangju. Overhearing another cab driver bragging about taking some foreigner to the war torn city, Kim sees an opportunity. Pretending to be an English speaking fare, Kim lands the rider that could possibly earn him the money needed to keep his apartment for him and his daughter.
The trip from the big city begins as innocent banter between an annoyed “intellectual” being bothered by an “uneducated” driver trying to make small talk, all the while neither of them knows what the other is saying. Then comes the military blockades in front of every road going in or out of Gwangju. Together, the pair are able to talk their way through a second military blockade on a side highway, claiming Hinspeter is a businessman while also hiding his media camera.
Getting through is when the chaos begins. Kim, who loves to bring up his time driving in Saudi Arabia, has no clue just how bad things are in Gwangju. Hinspeter did not realize what he was being sent in to cover. From the start of filming, Hinspeter finds himself on the roof of a building to film rioters being beaten with a local journalist telling him to be careful.
Kim decides to turn around and leave, saying to hell with his fair after seeing this initial chaos on the streets. An old woman begging for a taxi to the hospital to find her presumed dead sons body on the side of the road turns Kim around, reuniting him with his German fare. The extreme sight of what is happening opens two people from two different worlds eyes to what is going on. At that point it is Kim’s mission to get the foreigner out of the city, and it is the Germans goal to keep filming, even if it includes watching an armed military squad mowing down innocent protestors like cattle.
“A Taxi Driver” is visceral. Finding a way to address an absolute tragedy of society in non-documentary form is complicated. This film finds the perfect way to dramatize this historical massacre by finding one tiny piece of the story which makes it human. Top to bottom, every element of this piece is top-notch from a filmmaking standpoint. More importantly, it tells a story the world needs to know happened. Exactly what a German journalist and poor taxi driver did.
Suck Factor: 0 out of 7 (7 Means Your Movie Really SUCKS!)
The SUCK FACTOR! How it works. We have flipped the script on the standard rating system. If you make a masterpiece like “The Godfather”, you receive a perfect 0 SUCKS! If you make total garbage, say any Michael Bay movie, you receive an abysmal 7 score, meaning your movie really SUCKS!