Song Kang-ho is superb in this highly-engaging mainstream drama based on the dark history that was the 1980 Gwangju Uprising as a taxi driver unwittingly brings a German reporter to the site.
Dir. Jang Hun
2017 | South Korea | Drama, History | 137 min | 2.35:1 | Korean, English, German & Japanese
PG13 (passed clean) for some violence
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Yoo Hae-jin
Plot: A widowed father and taxi driver who drives a German reporter from Seoul to Gwangju to cover the 1980 uprising, soon finds himself regretting his decision after being caught in the violence around him.
Distributor: Showbox Entertainment
Subject Matter: Moderate – Gwangju Uprising; Reporting
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Mainstream
I normally wouldn’t have cared much for more mainstream Korean movies, but because this stars Song Kang-ho and is about the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, two aspects that resonate with me, I found it difficult to give it a miss when it appeared in my Netflix library.
Song is, of course, arguably South Korea’s greatest actor of the modern age, and here he plays an ordinary taxi driver who does an extraordinary thing: he ferries, albeit unwittingly, a passenger to the site of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, one of the darkest moments in South Korean sociopolitical history.
Based on a true story, this passenger, a German reporter named Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann), became the first person to break internationally the news of the youth-led uprising and brutal military crackdown that followed which cost the lives of thousands of civilians.
We see scenes of riotous violence in A Taxi Driver, which provide a sobering counterpoint to an otherwise entertaining, well-paced, and occasionally amusing, mainstream drama.
“You promised to tell people. It needs to be broadcast, so people will know.”
While the chemistry between Song and Kretschmann isn’t always engaging, melodrama and action genre tropes (e.g. kinetic foot chases, suspenseful checkpoint stops, and even a stupendous though somewhat absurd taxi chase) frequently take hold of the storytelling.
In that sense, some might feel A Taxi Driver can sometimes be too crowd-pleasing, or a tad too lightweight to really do ‘Gwangju’ historical justice. It’s debatable though.
I enjoyed it for what it was worth, and though I already had some understanding of the terrible massacre, not least from other Korean films that tackled the subject, A Taxi Driver offers that ‘low hanging fruit’ for many casual moviegoers from around the world, particularly Western audiences, to see the value of Asian popular cinema in conversation with specific Asian histories.