The Gwangju Uprising has been a recurring theme in South Korean cinema, with “A Petal,” “National Security” and “May 18” being among the most renowned samples. Jang Hoon, who gave us the masterful “Rough Cut” in 2008, takes a shot at the theme, through a script based on the true story of a taxi driver and his passenger, a German reporter.
The aforementioned driver is Man-seop, a widower living with his 11-year-old daughter, trying to make ends meet, although he rarely succeeds, being in debt and having very little money. His only friend seems to be his landlord, although he also owes him rent money. In an instance where the two of them are eating in a restaurant filled with taxi drivers, he overhears one saying that he has a drive to Gwangju scheduled that pays 100.000 Won. Not having any clue about the riots in the area, and the fact that the army has forbidden entrance to the city, he hijacks the ride and ends up carrying Peter, a German reporter, who wants to cover the events.
Man-seop knows some English from the time he spent in Saudi Arabia, but his communication with his passenger becomes tense from the beginning, and even more when the two of them have to use back roads and lies to reach Gwangju. Once there, Man-seop witnesses the truth about his passenger, while his avariciousness soon gets him into trouble with the local taxi drivers, who have allied themselves with the university students against the government and the army.
Man-seop, who was totally misinformed about the actual situation, witnesses the atrocities of the army, in a series of life-changing experiences that even threaten his life. During the events, the passenger and driver meet Hwang Tae-sool, a kind of a leader of the taxi drivers of the area, and Jae-sik, a university student who acts as translator for Peter. The four of them form a group with a mission of getting the footage to Japan, in order to show to the world what is happening in the area.
Jang takes a new approach to the subject through a story that is split into two parts. The first one takes place in Seoul and has a rather comedic style, as we witness the “adventures” of a poor devil trying to make ends meet, a style in which Song Kang-ho thrives. Some dramatic sequences are still present through his relationship with his daughter, but are minor.
The second part takes place after their arrival in Gwangju, with the film transforming into a rather pointy drama, which occasionally functions as an agonizing action thriller. The simply entertaining moments are also not missing from here, as in the scene in the house, but the drama is the one that dominates this part.