A cab ride into po­lit­i­cal up­heaval

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES REVIEWS - — Michael Recht­shaf­fen

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 Guang ju in the cab driven by Kim (Song Kang-ho), a wid­ower rais­ing an 11-yearold 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 com­pan­ion, 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. Not rated. Run­ning time: 2 hours, 17 min­utes. Play­ing: CGV Cin­e­mas, L.A.; CGV Cin­e­mas, Buena Park; AMC Fullerton 20.

Cho Won Jin

A CAB­BIE (Song Kang-ho) in 1980 South Korea gives vis­it­ing jour­nal­ist a his­tory-in-the-mak­ing view.

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