Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • [MOVIE POP]Taxi in Korean Cinema
  • by KIM Hyun-jung / 06.28.2016

    The very first two taxis in Korea were of Ford Model T, imported in 1912. After these taxis that were more like rental cars than taxis, a taxi company appeared in the 1920s, but the fare was too expensive for wide use. Back then, the fare for one hour’s ride was equivalent to that of 80kg of rice. Shocked by the fare, a lot of people would drop off in the middle of ride, way before reaching the destination. 


    However, as time went by, taxi became an affordable transportation, not only for the rich but also for common people. In the small space inside a taxi, countless things would take place and a lot of conversation be delivered.


    It is the same in the films, too. In The Spy (1999), LEE Cheol-jin (YOO Oh-seong), a North Korean spy, gets robbed of all the operational funds and weapon by a quartet of robbers set up as a taxi driver and passengers, as soon as he arrives in South Korea. Turns out, these robbers are not exactly professionals and just a clumsy bunch, but this episode was based on real crime cases where taxi drivers would turn into robbers. These may be culture-specific crimes in Korea, where complete strangers are often asked to share a taxi at night.



    Korean taxis are also notorious as “bullet taxis,” which speed up beyond the limit at night, on which Ghost Taxi (2000), a horror comedy, is based. Kil-nam (LEE Seo-jin), a taxi driver, dies in a car accident on his way to propose marriage, and meets his fellow taxi drivers who also have now turned into ghosts. However absurd the story may be, the terrified passengers travelling in the bullet taxi are clearly remembered, as many of the audience also have a similar experience.


    However, Korean taxis also represent warmth and kindness. Tokyo Taxi (2010) that KIM Tai-sik filmed in Japan introduces a taxi driver who takes a rock band singer who is suffering from fear of flying from Tokyo to Seoul, because this driver does not believe in rejecting a passenger. In this film, Yamada, the taxi driver, takes a car ferry to travel to Busan and then drives to Seoul, and gets in trouble on the way as some Busan taxi drivers misunderstand him to be on illegal taxi operation. However, once the misunderstanding is resolved, the Busan taxi drivers are ever so kind and innocent.


    In his first film, Driving With My Wife’s Lover (2007), KIM also featured a long distance taxi driver as the main character. Here, the taxi driver (JUNG Bo-suck) travels happily with a passenger (PARK Kwang-jung) to the sea, without knowing that this passenger is in fact the husband of the woman that he is having an affair with, and is seeking revenge.


    One step further, taxi drivers are often agents to fight for justice. May 18 (2007), depicting the Gwangju Democratization Movement, features Min-woo (KIM Sang-kyung), who is a taxi driver and kind elder brother who has raised his younger brother all by himself after losing their parents at an early age.


    He is so warm hearted that he would pay for a penniless elderly passenger with his own money so that he can turn in the exact fare to the taxi company, but the owner of the company (AHN Sung-ki) refuses it. Later, these two men join the civil army to fight against the airborne troops. It is based on the true event during the Gwangju Democratization Movement where taxi drivers blocked the troops with their own taxis.


    Recently, another film on the Gwangju Democratization Movement, Taxi Driver, appointed SONG Kang-ho as the lead. His character is a taxi driver who took a German journalist to Gwangju so that he may report on the tragedy. We will soon be witnessing a courageous taxi driver of Gwangju one more time on the screen.

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