By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
These days, every Song Kang-ho movie is an event. He’s as respected of an actor as they come in South Korea, and is equally adept with the comedic and the dramatic. Basically, if he’s in it, you want to see it.
More or less
A Taxi Driver stars Song as, well, a taxi driver in 1980, who steals a fare that will change his life- a German journalist (Thomas Kretschman) who wants to go to Gwangju- a city that’s essentially been sealed off by the Government due to student protests. There they find that things are so much worse than they imagined.
A Taxi Driver is not a comedy, but is awfully comedic, particularly Song Kang-ho’s performance of a hustling taxi driver not afraid to play an angle to get ahead. He actually steals the fare that will change his life and help bring an end to some truly despicable acts when he overhears it in a restaurant. His character arc from there is great as he wakes up to what is really happening in his country, and is galvanized to sacrifice what it takes to help change it. His and Kretschman’s rapport is excellent, and the latter gets some good acting in himself.
As he slowly morphs into Liam Neeson.
As always, this high-profile Korean production is well-shot, especially its riot scenes with smoke and fury and violent sound design. I particularly liked how director contrasts this city under siege with the surrounding countryside once Song leaves it for the first time, bucolic, green, and sun-lit during Buddha Day festivities. This underscores the gravity of his decision to go back to a place where his countrymen are having a polar opposite experience.
The ease with which the inaccurate media reports were effective in the rest of the country was very telling as well- controlling the population through media really works, or at least spreading confusion which allows your natural tendency to reassure yourself that everything really is alright to take over does. Now, if only I could think of some modern day relevance for that message…
Song Kang-ho has not a few one-sided conversations in Korean with Kretschman, who does not speak the language, but has to play off of them anyway. It’s a small detail, but as a foreigner in the same communication situation many times, it sticks out.
The scene where he eats kimchi and acts like he has hot lava in his mouth is pretty dumb, too.
Have you eaten at Taco Bell? You can handle kimchi.
The plot often makes a play for the conventional in order to tug those heartstrings in a predictable manner, but in a true story like this, that’s not always a bad thing. A bigger sin is constructing a vehicular action setpiece between taxis and government jeeps that had precisely zero chance of having actually happened, and instead plays as a wrong-headed way to add spectacle to a story that needed none.
A Taxi Driver is a well-acted if a bit conventional drama about two very brave, very real men who told the world about a hidden evil.
A Taxi Driver (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Song does something mildly shady
Take a Drink: whenever the taxi breaks down
Take a Drink: for the code of the taxi driver
Take a Drink: for shoes
Do a Shot: whenever a news source straight up lies