Ordinary people are not often praised in society as heroes because they don’t go out into the world expecting recognition. Some are thrown into the situation and fate just decided for them. In this suspenseful chilling, heart-warming story, we follow a taxi driver from Seoul and a German reporter to uncover the reality of the Kwangju Uprising. So, brace yourself because you are going to go on one hell of a ride. Well, I went into this film blind and was moved to tears. Okay, I confess I recognized the actor, Song Kang-ho from Parasite (2019) and I liked it that’s the only reason why I watched this film apart from having a soft spot for political historical films.
Before we start, let’s get some history lessons out of the way. It’s really important to understand this historic event since this film is based on the event, which I recall my world history textbook only mentioned briefly or didn’t mention at all. I just don’t remember. I’m not a history buff. So, if you are like me, we need a refresher:
The Kwangju Rising is an event that took place from May 18th to 27th of 1980. The time when South Korea’s dictatorship-long era ends. However, it did not transition from authoritarian to democratic society smoothly. General Chum Doo-hwan, the head of the military coup seized power, which only intensified the people’s need for democracy. As a result, many innocent lives have been taken during the protest against martial law.
Sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it? Well, I used to live in downtown Seattle where protests happen frequently. I was always on the edge. I didn’t realize how physically and mentally draining it is to witness protests almost every other weekend for years! And the local news media didn’t help to ease my mind. It tends to exaggerate current events for dramatic effects because that’s what viewers like–bad news. However, in some cases, some countries do the opposite. They minimize the severity of the situation, which is what made the Kwangju Uprising so terrifying for those who value democracy. And yet, for such an intense event, the director, Jang Hoon chose to explain the event in a light-hearted way, with which the average person can empathize. We follow a story of an ordinary family man who works as a taxi driver, trying to make a living to support his 11-year-old daughter. Like most people, he doesn’t care to meddle in politics until the money is involved. A German foreigner offered a large sum of money to a taxi driver to take him to Kwangju. Throughout the film, gradually you can see the taxi driver growing into someone who thinks less about himself but more about the well-being of the general mass.
Without spoiling too much of the film, one thing this film has shown me is what true democracy looks like. It’s full of vibrant colors, and sentimental people who are in tune with human dignity such as cooperation and respect for human life. Therefore, I was indeed rooting for the taxi driver and his cute, lime green car to save South Korea from being swallowed up by the big black van, which is a metaphor for the oppressive government whose heart is so black that it felt no remorse to run over its people and lied to its citizens of the uprising death toll. People deserve to know the truth. Do not hide it. In the end, the taxi driver did his job well–drove his passenger to his destination as promised to Kwangju. But did he do it for money? You’d be surprised. Money doesn’t always guarantee first-class customer service. It is in the heart of the driver that determines it.
A Taxi Driver gave me a little history lesson on South Korea and I enjoyed the ride the entire way. But don’t take my word for it. You should try calling the cab and see it for yourself. Hopefully, you got one with a big heart.