"A Taxi Driver" is a South Korean movie by Director Jang Hoon. It has been hugely popular in its home country and has topped the box office for three consecutive weekends.
Update (11/09/2017): The success of A Taxi Driver has continued and the film is now the tenth most watched Korean film (based on tickets sold). As well as this, it has been chosen as Korea's entry into the "Best Foreign Film" category at the Oscars.
The year 1980 signaled change throughout the world.
It marked the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. The Solidarity movement formed in Poland as labourers went on strike to protest the Communist regime in the Eastern European country. Josip Broz Tito, founder of the nonaligned movement, died, paving the way to the destruction of Yugoslavia a decade later, and Ronald Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States.
Change was on the horizon in South Korea as well thanks to the Gwangju Uprising in May of that year when the first wave of democracy was brutally suppressed by the military dictatorship under Chun Doo-hwan. Hundreds of citizens were killed in the operation ironically known as “Splendid Holiday,” making it the worst instance of repression in modern Korean history.
Jang Hoon’s new movie, A Taxi Driver, was highly anticipated at the beginning of the year. On release, it quickly went on its way to becoming the most popular film in Korean cinema history, having already grossed $71.8 million after three consecutive weeks at the top of the charts.
The movie, in part, serves as a testament to Jurgen Hinzpeter, the German journalist who covered the Gwangju Uprising. By doing this he became one of the few foreign correspondents who was able to tell the story to the rest of the world.
Hinzpeter died last year at the age of 79.
The movie co-stars Song Kang-ho as a taxi driver and single father who can’t seem to catch a break, and Thomas Kretschmann in the role of Hinzpeter.
It is also the second time for Jang and Song to work together on a film. They first teamed up for the film Secret Reunion, a spy movie, which was released in 2010.
The two lead roles in the film are portrayed masterfully. Song embodies the spirit of ordinary Korean people at the time who were striving to transform the country into a democratic society and Kretschmann, who looks unmistakably like the man he is meant to portray in the film, displays the typical steely German nerve required for such a role.
Hinzpeter arrives in Korea working for ARD-NDR and is looking for a way to get to the embattled city. Song, the taxi driver jumps on the chance and takes the journalist down south.
The pair arrive on May 19, a day after the uprising began, to find the city in chaos with military in the streets and students happily singing and dancing. However, a visit to the hospital afterwards paints a real picture of the situation on the ground.
The foreign press were highly prohibited during the uprising so there are several scenes of Hinzpeter trying to conceal his camera so that his footage is not compromised.
Jang plays on regional differences as the lead man. Originally from Seoul, he gets into several disagreements with city taxi drivers but they all band together in the end in a show of defiance and unity against the military forces there to quell the so-called unrest.
The scene when the military storms the local television station in an attempt to black out any media coverage of the event accurately depicts the nature of the South Korean regime at the time and gives the film more credence from a historical perspective. It also magnifies the importance of Kretschmann’s performance as Hinzpeter.
There are other instances of scenes in the movie which echo the actual historical record, although not to the same effect, such as the line of taxi drivers forming a line to protect civilians from the military’s bullets.
The strength of the film overall is the performance of the two leading roles, as well as creating a sense of what life was like in Korea at the time. The language in the film is very real, and creates a sense of emotion which can be clearly understood by all viewers.
The obvious distinction which sets it apart from other films in recent times is that it is based on a true story. For example, "The Battleship Island", a film which is meant to show what life was like for Korean labor slaves on Hashima Island during the period of Japanese occupation does not rely on a historical narrative.
A Taxi Driver is a must see for all who wish to gain a true appreciation for what Korea fought to become almost forty years ago. While the process itself is still in progress, it shows how people were and still are willing to fight for a free and democratic society.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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