In the absence of baseball, meaningful one at least, here I am back to the old well, writing another chapter of my K-List, a little corner dedicated to South Korean dramas that I share hoping to drag somebody else into this amazing niche of the series’ world.
Today I’m keeping it fresh, as fresh as possible really: the drama I’m going to review ended a month or two ago so there’s still some buzz, most notably because it could be one of the rare ones getting a second season.
Looking at the title of my entry you could think at a famous movie and there are a lot of similarities but also a completely different style, and ethical consequences.
Let’s get on with Taxi Driver, a 2021 SBS production.
- Melancholy and nostalgia
If the title reminded you of a famous Scorsese movie, you’re right on cue: in this Taxi Driver we also have a resentful protagonist with unbelievable fighting skills, due to his military past, avenging, as he couldn’t, on behalf of people fallen in despair, a last chance for those the common ways of law couldn’t provide for.
Revenge is the name of the game, and that is always a theme much akin to the nineties, but in this series we get a full paid trip back into memory lane: the atmosphere, the musics, the setting, a taxi company on the surface yet a mad scientist lab underground, everything screams throwback.
The drama starts off with a bang, full of action, violence, concocted coreographies and hard boiled crimes, in pure ’90 style, much to the delight of those, as me, who are always a tad nostalgic about the days gone by and the old school cool of series such as Magnum PI, the A-Team and the whole action genre that lost some of his charm with time.
What makes this Taxi Driver different from the movie, and other taxi-related products such as Baby Driver and the Taxxi, Luc Besson-directed, series is that the cases the team deals with are real life ones, not only in inspiration but in their details, excluding names obviously.
Each stand-alone bereaved client of the Rainbow Taxi Company is a true crime happened in Korea: work-related harrassment, sexual violence, gambling and smuggling, online shaming, telephone scams and even serial murders, Taxi Driver sheds a light on the flaws of a society such as that in South Korea, and in pretty much all of the world, where success and money are the end justifying all means.
This mix of ’90s atmospheres and real-life cases makes for an entertaining yet significative watch, one that is so visually cool yet makes you think that there’s so much bad out in the open, a high pitched song that tears you up from time to time.
- The Rainbow team
The best part of Taxi Driver is arguably the team that is the Rainbow Taxi Company: all of the six members share a common past, one of grief, torment and pain for their relatives/friends gone too soon because of nasty individuals, and a common goal, helping others in relieving their anger by avenging them in not-so-lawful fashion.
As in any squad, there’s a guy who gets dirty and here’s none other than the driver, an incredible acting performance by Lee Je Hoon.
This is a comeback to winning ways for him, a brilliant career that had its peak with his interpretation of a young detective in the masterpiece that is Signal, then fell into a skid on a couple of romances, whereas now he’s back on the rise thanks to a genre that suits him.
Here he shows all of his prowess and adaptability: as the “arms” of the team he has to get into the fray with the bad guys, meaning he has a lot of fight scenes he acts instead of using a stunt-double, moreover he’s the one on the field so he’s got to fit into the scenery, whether it is a company, a gang or pretending as a foreign businessman.
He acts a thousand roles, all with different shades, accents and quirks, and he does them all so well you couldn’t believe it’s always the same guy, a modern jack-of-all-trades, a chameleon in the K-Drama scene.
His companions are a fun group of weirdos scarred by past losses: the one in charge is an old man, the head of an association that helps the bereaved in legal ways but also the lead of the Rainbow team; a couple of friends, tied by a cruel destiny, are the engineers, helping both on the field and behind the scenes on improving the Batmobile-like taxi, then there’s the real surprise, a young woman as the hacker.
Pyo Ye Jin is not new to the scene, she already acted in classics such as While You Were Sleeping, Fight For My Way and What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, but her performance here is something to behold.
Called at the last moment because of the previous actress’ troubles, APRIL’s Naeun and her group’s bullying scandal, she made the role hers in no time and in such a way no one else could have. Her easygoing attitude and tomboy behavior, bickering with the engineers and befriending the driver, hide a young girl’s broken heart for her sister’s departure: Pyo Ye Jin is perfect in this double role, extravagant but emotional, happy-go-lucky yet sad and remorseful, an acting display that should make her one to watch in the future.
- Changing lanes
This is a big point of discussion and a warning for viewers alike: Taxi Driver is a tale of two series, and that is due to a much talked about change of writer midway into the drama, from ep.11 onwards.
Korean outlets talked about differences in opinions and viewpoint of the series between director and writer that led to the second stepping down and being replaced by one of his assistants, but whatever happened, the change is felt hard and heavy.
From a drama that was frenetic yet gave a generous amount of screentime to all characters and their characterization, Taxi Driver goes into overdrive in the last 5 eps, an abundance of action and fights with focus on the main plot abandoning the stand-alone case structure.
That is such a change of pace, organization and general feel of the series that you really come to ask yourself whether you’re watching the same thing: it’s still good, but not as before.
Personally I didn’t mind it: although you lose some characters on the way and there’s so much going on all the time you’re bound to miss some, there’s also to say that the main storyline wasn’t really developing well into the second half, risking to end up as an unfinished product that would have made it a shame.
- Law ain’t helping
I won’t lie to you: the leads are the main reason I had this drama on my watchlist as soon as it was announced. Signal is one of the best K-Dramas of all time and Lee Je Hoon was fantastic, but the FL was the real deal for me.
Since I first saw her in Because This is my First Life, I always had a crush on Esom: she’s totally different from the K-Drama standard, both in looks and acting. Tall, lean, with pitch black eyes, she’s perfect in badass roles with her model-like looks making intimidatingly beautiful, so when she was announced as the FL in a prosectuor role I was in.
To my dismay though her role here is one of her weakest FLs to date: as a prosecutor she’s always behind, late with respect to the Rainbow team, unable to act due to bureocracy, her stubborn reliance on law makes her almost an irritating character, if the writers were aiming to point out the flaws of the police and justice system in SK, too slow, condescend and even corrupt, they made it clear enough.
You can’t fault her acting though: although there’s no romance, her dialogues with the ML are always so insightful, a clash between two confident people on the opposite sides of the justice spectrum; as a no-nonsense, by-the-book prosecutor she looks amazing, still she has not enough characterization and screentime, a FL role that is not one at all.
Taxi Driver is a nostalgic look back to the 1990s, with its frantic and adrenalinic pacing, blitzing action and tough themes, it has all the elements of a classic revenge story with a sad look at real-life cases, making it a punch in the guts close to home, even for foreigners who have heard of similar tragedies on the news.
A production that has good values but suffers a two-faced writing, an ensemble of actors each making a good if not great impression and some of the best drama OSTs in the last year are all more of a reason to give this one a watch.
Taxi Driver is not perfect, it wants to do too much and loses momentum and impact as it ends on a pedantic yet open note, but it’s much more than just a series: maybe revenge is not the way, but ignoring the issue altoghether is also not the choice. There’s a lot of evil out there, and the law needs to be faster, and better, to deal with it.
That’s all folks, see you in the next episode of my K-List!