From May 18-27, 1980, in South Korea, a series of events known as the Gwangju Uprising led to the deaths of 606 people. Director Jang Hoon revisits this tumultuous period with his latest film, “A Taxi Driver.” While conventional wisdom would lead to you expect a somber affair, Jang instead takes a national tragedy and crafts a winning film about sacrifice and honor.
The Gwangju Uprising was a protest against the government’s military rule, led largely by college students who faced daily violence in Gwangju. Miles away in the capital of Seoul, however, many denied the injustices being committed, thanks to a successful government cover-up. One such denier is a taxi driver, Kim Man-seob (Kang-ho Song), who is trying to make ends meet as a single father. But one day, he stumbles on an opportunity to see Gwangju for himself, when a German reporter hires him to drive there. Before long, he unwittingly becomes a participant in this historic fight for freedom.
Our protagonist undergoes quite the transformation throughout this engaging story. At first, he is an amiable but curmudgeonly man who complains about the ungrateful younger generation. In the lead role, Kang-ho Song is a charismatic presence whose energy creates a nice dynamic with the more restrained Thomas Kretschmann, who plays the German reporter, Peter.
In another film, you could easily envisage a buddy comedy developing between these opposite personalities. And there are hints of that here, especially through the inherent humor of their language barrier. But as the pair make their way to Gwangju, the atmosphere gets considerably bleaker.
When he eventually takes the action to the streets, Jang is clearly in his filmmaking element. His background in genre films shows as he directs the mayhem with a visceral intensity. And as Song looks on aghast, he becomes an audience surrogate, effectively channeling the horror, sadness, and anger experienced by the activists.
Ultimately, the essence of the film is summed up in one of its climactic scenes. Specifically, it involves a fictional car chase that wouldn’t feel out of place in your typical action franchise. In the end, “A Taxi Driver” doesn’t break new ground from an artistic perspective, but it successfully invests you in its characters by any means necessary. With emotion and thrills to spare, it carries you on a ride worth taking.
“A Taxi Driver” is now available on VOD.