English Title: Taxi Driver
Korean Title: 모범택시 [lit. model/deluxe taxi]
Director(s): Park Joon-woo
Screenwriter(s): Oh Sang-ho & Lee Ji-hyun
Studio: Studio S, Group 8 Released: 2021
Runtime: 16 episodes, ~1h each.
Starring: Lee Je-hoon, Esom, Kim Eui-sung, Pyo Ye-jin
My Verdict: Vigilantes solve and fight crime. Generally good pacing, acting and production, making an entertaining and satisfying series.
● Based on the webtoon The Deluxe Taxi by Carlos and Lee Jae-jin, this series is not to be confused for the 1976 American film written by Paul Schrader although it takes some inspiration from it.
● This is another “vigilantes fight against the unjust system” series that takes a page or two from quite a few other works. Whilst it does not have any original elements, the combination and execution of said elements nonetheless stand well on its own.
● Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) is ex-military (not merely mandatory service) who now drives a deluxe taxi for a company called Rainbow Taxi run by Jang Sung-chul (Kim Eui-sung). The company provides the usual services but Do-gi’s deluxe taxi offers to pick up those who want “revenge”. He records their side of the story and the team discusses whether to take up the case or not. Ahn Go-eun (Pyo Ye-jin) is a bookkeeper who also acts as a hacker and provides comms support, and Choi Kyung-goo (Jang Hyuk-jin) and Park Jin-eon (Bae Yoo-ram) are mechanics.
● The tone is somewhat dark but also takes a comic-book approach. As such, our heroes’ exceptional abilities and relative success are made more palatable (if not always outright plausible) but, at the same time, the crimes and the people involved are not trivialized and are actually taken seriously.
● Related to the above, some of the crimes depicted are loosely based on real cases which contributes to the tone. Often in fiction, even crimes based on real cases are extreme like, for example, serial killers that are written for the purposes of horror or just to gross you out. But in Taxi Driver, cases like worker exploitation and school bullying are disturbing because they are realistic.
● Consistent to the comic-book approach, Do-gi, Sung-chul and Go-eun have all suffered some gross injustice which serves as motivation. Thankfully, it is not something that the series dwells on. Also consistent to the comic-book feel is the basement garage from which the team operates, a pair of mechanics who are supposed to be quirky but can be actively weirder and, of course, a well-meaning prosecutor (Esom) who investigates the disappearing perps and in that sense threaten our heroes.
● The series attempts with some degree of success to make our heroes morally grey. At heart, the team is essentially the “good guys”. They bypass the corrupt system but they act and react in proportion, so viewers are unlikely to be torn, intellectually or emotionally, at any of their choices.
● The one exception is the boss Sung-chul’s locking up of perps in a basement. This is morally arguable but less convincing is his use of gangsters who run the facility. It does not take much foresight to see that the association with these gangsters is an unnecessary risk. It is not sufficiently plausible. However, as if to address this apparent weakness, it is not a spoiler to reveal that they do cause problems and that is part of the story.
● One of the strengths of the series is the pacing. By breaking up the series into cases that span a few episodes—for example, episodes 1 and 2 deal with worker exploitation and episodes 3 and 4 deal with school bullying—it provides variety. Not all cases span two episodes and, as mentioned above, there is the ongoing issue of the arrangement with the gangsters so it does not feel episodic either.
● Thankfully, the action and cinematography are not too stylized. My only complaints are that it tries to make Do-gi’s driving look cool when there is nothing special and the ram he uses is not really feasible. Granted, that is consistent to the comic-book tone and it is admittedly a matter of production safety and budget, but it would be nice to have a series or film that shows some real driving. At least it does not resort to some overly fantastical fast-car movie rubbish.
● The performances are all solid. Lee Je-hoon does a fine job, almost too good for this character in some respects. As an ex-military, it is believable that he has the martial skills but then he is also good at putting on a different persona for undercover work. He is almost too good but Lee Je-hoon plays it comically at times so it is entertaining at least.
● Despite a few relative weaknesses, it is generally well-paced, acted and produced, making an entertaining and satisfying series.
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