A Taxi Driver is a South Korean film directed by Jang Hoon which revisits the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, a historical event in South Korea’s march towards democracy. The film portrays the story of A Taxi Driver and his bonding with a German reporter keen to reveal to the world, the prevailing monarchy in South Korea in the 80s.
The German journalist, Peter hears about the uprising in the Korean city of Gwangju in which paratroopers opened fire on protesters, killing hundreds. News is not getting out because phone lines have been cut and roads into and out of the city are blocked. Troops were sent to major cities, but the city of Gwangju was a particular flashpoint due to its high concentration of students, who suffer the brutality done by the military. Peter is keen to show the world about the massacre done by the military government in response to growing demands for democracy and thus arrives in South Korea to film the news.
The film takes us on a thrilling ride when the taxi driver Kim Man-seob or popularly known as Mr.Kim in the film, hears of an opportunity to take Peter to Gwangju. Mr.Kim, a single father struggling to raise his daughter and already in debt with outstanding rent, bluffs Peter and takes the job for some easy cash, without even listening to the description of the job.
Character is in the Choices
Mr. Kim played by Song Kang-ho, popularly known for films like Parasite and Memories of a Murder, shows the perfect arc of a character who is unaware and unaffected by the political tyranny of his own government, but when he observes those autocracies from his own eyes, a change occurs inside him, and that’s what the director Jang Hoon has tried to explore throughout the film.
Mr.Kim represents the general audience, who are easily molded by the speeches and promises of our leaders but never tried to investigate the situation that is layered under so many political lies. We are blinded by our own selfishness or maybe to be appropriate, we are so busy meeting the daily ends that we don’t pay heed to the oppression around us.
After reaching Gwangju city, Mr.Kim is faced with a decision: should he ensure that Peter is brought back to Seoul so he can smuggle the footage out of Korea for it to be aired on German TV, or go home as quickly as possible to his 11-year-old daughter?
Mr.Kim’s decision to stay back for the greater good of the Korean people after witnessing the beating of the students on the road represents the heroic choice of a commoner.
What’s so great about a country where soldiers assault you?
The killing done by the military makes every eye moist, even Mr.Kim’s, who questions his own morals to either let this injustice prevail because he needs money or finally raises a voice, so many wouldn’t die anymore.
Memories of A Taxi Driver
A taxi driver through it’s subtle but powerful narrative blended with both humor and wit, raises some serious questions particularly, “what is so great about a country where military beats his own people” and “ it might not be the job of a student to join an uprising, but ignoring the oppression questions our own morality?” The latter is beautifully explored in a scene where Gu Jae-Sik, A naive university student who translates the words of Peter for Mr.Kim, speaks up that he wishes to become a singer, and if he wouldn’t be busy protesting, he would have formed a band and sang with his friends. This hits you hard because those students are sacrificing their passion for their own country, the country where they are termed as Traitor for not abiding by laws of dictatorship.
The second most powerful scene in the film where Mr.Kim escapes government vehicles with the aid of other cab drivers portrays the emotions of the unity in the lower middle class, who, even in debt are trying to fight against injustice while the rich, who can afford to raise a voice is ignorant of the cause.
The film ends with Peter leaving South Korea where Mr.Kim bid him an emotional farewell. Peter asks for Mr.Kim’s official name and phone number as he wishes to return to South Korea and pay him a visit again. Mr.Kim hesitates and writes his phone number and name under a false identity.
After the footage captured by Peter comes out to the world, he tries to contact Mr.Kim but fails. Some 23 years later, when Peter is awarded in South Korea for his report on the Gwangju Uprising, he mentions in his speech his gratitude towards Mr.Kim, without whom, this journey would be totally futile.
that spring of 1980. And I will never forget. But there is one face in particular that I miss dearly. My brave friend, Kim Sa-bok. He is a taxi driver. If I could find you through this footage, and then meet you once again, I would just be so happy. I’d rush over to Seoul in an instant, ride with you in your taxi, and see Korea.
Mr.Kim, still a taxi driver, reads about Peter’s speech in a news article and offers his own gratitude towards Peter who made him, an unsung hero, at least in his own eyes.
Eom Yu-na’s deft script is based on a true story that took place when German reporter Jürgen Hinzpeter traveled to Gwangju to witness first-hand the reprisals.