Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fantasia 2017.30: A Taxi Driver

So, if Fantasia were still going on, this would have been day 30, and since I saw a Fantasia selection on this day…

Yeah, it's a dumb joke, but I'm really hoping to have the chance to beat it into the ground over the next few weeks, although right now only Brigsby Bear appears to be on the horizon.

Been a while since I really had a bad audience for a movie, with the start of this one marred by a bunch of folks who didn't realize it was Korean (and weren't tipped off by the previews playing before it, which all had Asian leads) and exited in noisy disgust. I wonder if they thought this was a revival of the Al Pacino movie. Probably wouldn't have liked this one anyway, although who knows; maybe when it actually got to the riot scenes they would have connected it to something in the present.

Oh, and speaking of that trailer package, it included a new, somewhat different trailer for The Villainess that actually has footage of the big crazy fight at the end, which makes me a bit sad, because it's a heck of a thing to not know is coming. I think it will still do the job.

One other thing I wonder when watching a movie like this, which is about the need to smuggle evidence that our "democratic" allies in South Korea were in some ways an improvement over their neighbors to the North mainly because the rulers were merely corrupt rather than insane, I wonder what sort of impact it made here. I was something like six-and-a-half at the time of the events, but I was probably already watching M*A*S*H reruns, so I know Korea wasn't something entirely out of America's sight, even if (by my memory) that show never really touched on the sometimes-problematic nature of that particular ally in the cold war.

Taeksi Woonjunsa (A Taxi Driver)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2017 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

A Taxi Driver ends with the traditional footage of a real-life person portrayed in the movie from many years later, and though it's a bit of a cliche, it also acknowledges that while the story may at times seem a little too good to be true, there's apparently enough to it to be worth buying into. There may be liberties taken in the making of this film, but there's more than a bit genuine at its core, and it's a quality film as well as an important true story.

As it opens in May 1980, Kim Man-seob (Song Kang-ho) has the same opinion of student protesters that most people in Seoul do - they're in the way, making it impossible for him to drive his private taxi from point A to point B; they don't know what real work and hardship is, like when he spent part of his youth working in Saudi Arabia's blistering heat; they're naive about the threat represented by the North and the authority that the government needs to fight it. Meanwhile, German telejournalist Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) - "Peter" for short - is starting to feel too comfortable after his eight years in Tokyo, so when he gets word that something is going down in the city of Gwangju, he flies into Seoul claiming to be a missionary and hires a cab to drive him cross-country for 100,000 won. Kim, roughly that much in debt, steals the fare despite not really being as bilingual as he claims. Neither of them are quite prepared for exactly what is going on within the southern city, which has had the phone lines cut and roadblocks everywhere.

The Gwangju Uprising is a pivotal moment in the history of South Korea, one whose importance derives as much from it becoming public as the actual horror, although there's plenty of that. It takes a while to get there, although it's an impressive work of pacing that an American viewer like myself who is less likely to know the history won't feel like anything is being skipped over or taken for granted, though it raises the question of whether a Korean audience will think director Jang Hoon and writer Eom Yu-na are over-explaining. On the other hand, it gives the audience a little time to (re-)immerse themselves in South Korea circa 1980, with its military checkpoints and sanitized news, enough that the sight of a locked-down Gwangju is ominous and the violence that erupts shocking. Jang and Eom make the conscious decision to spend most of the movie showing things from the perspective of working-class Kim and outsider Hinzpeter, hammering home just how the military crackdown seems not just unjust, but almost unfathomable, rather than showing what reasons (corrupt or paranoid as they may be).

Full review on EFC.

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