It is no easy feat for a movie to get a high 94% rating on rotten tomatoes, which was one of the reasons why I really wanted to catch ‘A Taxi Driver’ before it ended its run. I was not disappointed! Heads up though, this movie is not an easy movie to sit through as the violence you will see is based on an actual event in history – the Gwangju Uprising of the 1980s. Knowing that people actually lived through such difficult and painful times made it that much more heartbreaking to watch. Thankfully, the movie still held a hopeful message despite being based on a dark period of Korean history. The positive energy of the people could be felt throughout the movie, even during the most desperate of times, and that was what made this movie so heartwarming.
[Please note that there are some spoilers ahead]
Kim Man Sub (played by Song Kang Ho) is a widowed taxi driver struggling to make ends meet. When he hears of a lucrative job offer, he immediately snatches the job from his unsuspecting colleague. He picks up German reporter Jürgen Hinzpeter (played by Thomas Kretschmann) and they begin their long journey to Gwangju. Kim soon realises that what sounded like an easy job was actually a dangerous mission when he reaches the border of Gwangju, which was heavily guarded by the military. However, it was too late to turn back and although initially unwilling, he ends up working with Hinzpeter and the other residents in Gwangju to expose the truth about the atrocities happening in the county to the world.
The movie was worth every teardrop shed – in anger, in sadness, and in hope that despite all the human cruelty that was happening, heroes do live among us. From the passionate university students actively protesting against the military government, to the German reporter determined to report the truth; from the Gwangju taxi drivers who used their driving skills to help their fellow men, to an unsuspecting Seoul taxi driver who took up a job for money but ended up being a part of something much more meaningful, they were all heroes in their own rights.
It is hard to pinpoint a particular favourite moment in the movie. Every scene that comes to mind is a prelude to a heartbreaking one. In one scene, Gu Jae Shik (played by Ryu Jun Yeol) tells Hinzpeter that he can hold off the soldiers for a while so Hinzpeter should escape and bring the truth to the world, only for us to see Gu’s lifeless body in the hospital later. In another, the group of taxi drivers from Gwangju helped escort Kim’s taxi out of Gwangju safely, only to crash one after another in attempts to stop the military from catching up to Kim.
It was particularly heartbreaking to see Taxi Driver Hwang Tae Sol (played by Yoo Hae Jin) telling Kim to keep driving and not worry about them only to sacrifice himself. So many people died just so that the truth could be made known to the world, and to save their fellow countrymen from future atrocities. It was both painful and yet inspiring.
There was one scene which evoked the most emotions in me and renewed my faith in humanity – when a soldier conducted a spot check on Kim’s taxi for suspicious items. The soldier realised they were the ‘criminals’ that the military was tasked to catch when he saw the Seoul license plates stashed in the trunk. I thought that it was going to be the end for our protagonists. But they were let go. The soldier disobeyed orders and spared their lives, and you could see the quiet gratitude flashing across Kim’s face. He was a quiet hero who just did what he felt was right. Without that soldier, they would not have made it out alive.
Even though the movie showcased a painful period in Korea’s history, complete with a lot of bloodshed, it ended on an inspirational note with the news footage being broadcast internationally. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the horrors that were happening in Gwangju could finally come to an end. While Hinzpeter never managed to meet his taxi driver again after searching for decades, we now know that a taxi driver was one of the biggest unsung heroes in modern Korean history. And who knows, Hinzpeter may meet Taxi Driver Kim in the afterlife and enjoy some coffee just like old friends. It’s a nice afterthought.