Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - A Taxi Driver

The 1980 Gwangju Uprising is the subject of Jang Hun’s new film A Taxi Driver. At the flim opening Kim Man-Seob (Song Kang-Ho) is a struggling taxi driver in Seoul. He's behind in his rent, his fares often short pay him or beg to pay the next day and his 11 year old daughter has anger issues stemming from the untimely death of her mother.  Mr. Kim tries to maintain a standard keep by keeping his cab in good working condition and returning home to have dinner with his daughter each evening by a reasonable hour. When news circulates at the taxi stand that a German Foreigner Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) is willing to pay W100,000 for a ride from Seoul to Gwanju and back before curfew, Mr. Kim steals the fair to take the reporter on his journey.  
 


The spring of 1980 was a very turbulent time in South Korea. The military dictator Park Chung- hee  had been killed but the military still had a strong hold on the country ad martial law was in place with a strict curfew being enforced. The worst of the conflicts were in Gwanju where the student opposed the paratroopers and plain clothed army in the streets in alleys often being beaten within an inch of their livers or dodging a hail of bullets as they sought democracy.  Peter got word of the events in Gwanju while working in Tokyo grabbed his passport and video camera hopped on a plane and headed to the scene. The government forces had blocked the roads into and out of the city. Had army units stationed on the secondary roads, censored the newspaper and media reports and cut all of the phone lines. To the rest of South Korea and the world, the students were violent protestors, communists and the instigators of the violence that resulted in minor casualties.



Director Jang Hoon tells a story that is violent authoritarian that inhabits a critical point in South Korean South Korean history. The storyline of army soliders shooting  students in the streets is more what one would expect from the neighbours to the North.  In taxi driver Kim Man-Seob the narrative gives the steps in one individual to parallel the nation realization of the truth of the situation. At first he is completely unaware of the events in Gwangju, then having served on the army himself sympathetic to the solders but as his eyes see what's actually occurring moves firmly on the side of the students knowing that the military has to be stopped. Thomas Kretschmann's journalist is the perfect counter balance to the taxi driver. Hinzpeter speaks few words is calm and cool keeping his eye on the task at hand; record the events and get the story out. 

A Taxi Driver recounts historical events that were suppressed at the time by the South Korean government and media. The two lead actors communicate to the audience and each other the urgency, danger and difficulty of the situation despite a hefty language barrier. Its a story which needed an outlet that director Jang Hoon forcefully provided.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Taxi Driver | Jang Hoon | South Korea | 2017 | 137 Minutes.

Tags: Gwangju Uprising, Martial Law, Democracy, Military Dictatorship, Paratroopers, Foreign Reporter, Germany, NDR.