He’s no Travis Bickle but Seoul cabbie Kim Man-seob is guided by his own strong moral code in “A Taxi Driver,” an effective — and affecting — fact-based political drama set against the bloody backdrop of South Korea’s 1980 Guangju Democratic Uprising.
Despite a media blackout in the wake of civilian protests against martial law imposed by Gen. Chun Doo Hwan (he seized power in a 1979 coup), a German broadcast journalist (Thomas Kretschmann) is determined to bear witness to the brutal attacks.
He finds an entry point into Guangju in the cab driven by Kim (Song Kang-ho), a widower raising an 11-year-old daughter who initially sees the 100,000 Won fare (about $90 in today’s currency) as an easy way to catch up on his back rent, but ultimately finds himself unable to remain an innocent bystander.
Grafting the buddy picture onto the framework of the classic political thriller, director Jang Hoon also manages to find time for lighter moments of human comedy, and those seemingly disparate elements are deftly navigated by Song and his fellow fully dimensional characters.
Months before his death in 2016, the actual journalist, Jurgen Hinzpeter, made one final attempt to reconnect with his Seoul cabbie and his video message, included at the end of the film, provides an especially poignant coda.
‘A Taxi Driver’
In Korean and English with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Playing: CGV Cinemas, L.A.; CGV Cinemas, Buena Park; AMC Fullerton 20