In May of 1980, a struggling taxi driver in Seoul, Korea weasels his way into a fare that he believes will be easy and lucrative. Unbeknownst to him, he’s agreed to drive a reporter straight into the heart of a city under siege by a military government and an opposing uprising, with riots and corruption everywhere. Until now, the taxi driver has only been financially struggling, but he’s about to learn new meanings of the word as he struggles for survival trying to get back to his daughter.
Song Kang-ho plays the titular Taxi Driver, Kim Man-seob. It is quickly revealed that he is a single father of a preteen girl struggling to make ends meet, including being a few months behind on the rent. While trying to get a quick loan or advance of some kind, he hears another driver talking about an upcoming fare that would cover his rent. So, off he goes to intercept the fare, who turns out to be a German reporter who only speaks English; Kim barely speaks enough English to pass a brief test. The language barrier is just the start of their troubles.
Thomas Kretschmann plays the reporter, Jurgen Hinzpeter, who is determined to help the people of Gwangju by reporting their troubles to the world. Not an easy feat at a time before the internet when all roads in and out of Gwangju are controlled by the very same military that is oppressing the town. Shortly after arriving, long after he’s realized his driver does not really speak English as expected, he finds a student who can function as a translator. With the student’s help, he and Kim start to develop an understanding for each other and start to bond over their mutual compassion for the civilians that they meet.
The movie isn’t kind. It is a brutal showcase of real events that took place in Gwangju. It has some lighthearted, almost comedic, moments, but most of the movie will have you captivated, cringing, or crying. Kim and Jurgen have to make some hard choices in order to get the story out to the world. Even the flash forward at the end is bittersweet and heartbreaking. And if you want a little more heartache, you can lookup info on the real taxi driver.
I would recommend this movie. I expect it will stay with me longer than other movies I have written about lately. I image some gun advocates with hold this up as an example of the need for guns, like they’ll be able to match the fire power if the government decided to turn on its people. I look at it as an example of why you shouldn’t let certain people obtain power. And when they do, you may have to rise up and fight. Just some random thoughts to go out on.