[A Look Back on Korea's 'Cheonman Movie' #10] 'A Taxi Driver'

나확진 / 인턴 차민경 / 2021-10-03 07:00:27
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Cha Min Kyung

[Episode 10] 'A Taxi Driver' (2017 Directed by Jang Hoon)

▲ This photo, provided by South Korean film distribution company, Showbox, shows the movie poster for "A Taxi Driver." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"A Taxi Driver," which was released in August 2017, attracted 12.18 million viewers and is ranked the eleventh highest-grossing film in the Korean film history, according to KOBIS (Korea Box-office Information System).

Song Kang-ho, who is second to none within Korea's acting industry, plays the role of Man-seob, a widowed taxi driver working in Seoul, who heads to Gwangju with German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter(called "Peter" in the movie) on May 18, 1980, and unintentionally gets involved with events of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising against military regime.

"A Taxi Driver" is also the biggest box office hit among the four 'Cheonman movies,' which refers to films watched by ten million or more viewers, starring Song, including "The Host" (2006), "The Attorney" (2013) and "Parasite" (2019) based on data provided by KOBIS.

A week before the release of "A Taxi Driver," "The Battleship Island" became the first movie in the country to be released on more than 2,000 screens, creating controversy for screen dominance. On the other hand, "A Taxi Driver" started off with 1,400 screens and gradually increased the number of screens and avoid controversy over screen dominance.

▲ This EPA photo, shows German actor Thomas Kretschmann arriving for the premiere of US director Bryan Singer's film 'Valkyrie' held at the Odeon Leicester Square in Central London, Britain, 21 January 2009.

The well-known German actor Thomas Kretschmann, who plays Peter, has previously starred in movies such as "The Pianist," "Valkyrie," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and was seen visiting Korea after the movie was released.

◇ 'A Taxi Driver' based on a true story with real-life characters

The film is based on a real-life story of Jürgen Hinzpeter, who worked as a correspondent in the Tokyo branch of the German broadcaster ARD-NDR and covered the Gwangju Uprising.

Ahead of making the film, director Jang Hoon said he went to Germany in 2015 to meet with Hinzpeter to ask how he covered the events of the Gwangju Uprising. "As a reporter I had to go," Hinzpeter replied. In February 2016, one year after director Jang visited Hinzpeter, the reporter passed away from a chronic disease.



▲ Flowers are laid in front of the grave of German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter at a cemetery in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Aug. 20, 2017. "A Taxi Driver," a Korean movie about a cabbie who took Hinzpeter to the center of the Gwangju pro-democracy uprising in 1980, became this year's first film to attract more than 10 million moviegoers the same day. Helmed by Jang Hoon, the film tells the story of a Seoul taxi driver named Man-seop, who happens to take the German reporter to Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, for a large offer of money and witnesses the horrors of the bloody military crackdown on the uprising on May 18, 1980. (Yonhap)

Some of Hinzpeter's hair and nail clippings were left in a tombstone of the May 18 memorial garden in Mangwol-dong following his desire to be buried in Gwangju.

At the time of the film's production, there was little information on Man-seob's character except for the fact it was based on a real driver named Kim Sa-bok, who drove Hinzpeter to and from Gwangju, so most of the character's story was fictional.

However, shortly after the release of the movie, Kim Sa-bok's son, Kim Seung-pil, released a photo taken of Hinzpeter and his father, who drove a taxi belonging to the Seoul Palace Hotel, to the media and the actual story of Kim Sa-bok was made known to the public.


▲ This photo, provided by Kim Sa-bok's son Kim Seung-pil, shows Jürgen Hinzpeter (L) and Kim Sa-bok (R). (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Kim Sa-bok is known to have interacted with foreign journalists and figures involved in democracy movement before 1980 as he had already learned English and Japanese by himself and was also interested in the movement.

However, Kim Sa-bok's son mentioned that his father often drank to endure the pain he felt after coming back from Gwangju, and eventually passed away in 1984.


▲ The stars of the new movie "A Taxi Driver" -- Yoo Hae-jin, Song Kang-ho and Ryu Jun-yeol (L to R) -- pose for a photo during a publicity event in Seoul on June 20, 2017. The movie will be released in South Korea in August. (Yonhap)

Other major characters in the movie, such as the Gwangju taxi driver Hwang Tae-sul (Yoo Hae-jin) and Koo Jae-sik (Ryu Jun-yeol), a university student living in Gwangju, were created by referring to testimonies or archives about the situation in Gwangju at the time, according to the production team.

◇ The rise of political wind after a direct portrayal of the Gwangju Uprising in 'A Taxi Driver'

"A Taxi Driver," which was released only a few months after the current South Korean President Moon Jae-in won the presidential election, became a political sensation shortly after its release since it portrayed a tragic event in modern Korean history.

At the time, former prime minister Lee Nak-yon made headlines after organizing a get-together with twenty of his Facebook friends and acquaintances to watch "A Taxi Driver" together during the first weekend of its release.

▲ This photo, provided by Cheongwadae, also known as the Blue House, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) holding hands with Hinzpeter's spouse Edeltraut Brahmstaedt after watching "A Taxi Driver." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Moon was also seen watching the film the following weekend with Hinzpeter's spouse, Edeltraut Brahmstaedt, who was invited to Korea by the movie's distribution company.

Ahead of holding a political convention to elect a party leader, politicians of the People's Party viewed the movie as a group while the conservative political party, Bareun Party, joined in and watched the film, showing a different attitude from previous conservative parities which have been passive to the Gwangju Uprising event.



▲ Party leaders cut the tape at a ceremony to open the Jürgen Hinzpeter May 18 Uprising Photo Exhibition at the National Assembly in Seoul on Oct. 16, 2017. The late German correspondent was the first western reporter to send out footage of the May 1980 pro-democracy movement and the ensuing bloody military crackdown with the help of a local taxi driver in the South Korean city of Gwangju. (Yonhap)

The movie served as an opportunity to extensively evoke the problems of the Gwangju Uprising in terms of politics and other aspects. After the release of "A Taxi Driver," the "Jürgen Hinzpeter May 18 Uprising Photo Exhibition" was held at the National Assembly as well as at the lobby of the Seoul City hall, in order to urge the passage of the "Special Act on Investigating the Truth of the May 18 Democratization Movement." The bill was not passed that year, but the 2020 revised bill was passed.

◇ Film site of "A Taxi Driver" accurately resembles S.Korea in 1980

▲ This photo, provided by the Gwangju Design Center, shows a scene from "A Taxi Driver" where Peter (Thomas Kretschmann) (L) and Man-seob (Song Kang-ho) are talking to a solider. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Another leading role in the movie is Man-seob's old green-colored taxi.

The car used in the film was the 1973 Brisa taxi, which was discontinued in 1981 due to the industrial rationalization of Chun Doo-hwan, who was the chief of the Defense Security Command in Korea at the time. The vehicle, which was found after seven months of searching in foreign countries, was finalized by completely renovating the inner parts while keeping the exterior appearance as it is.



▲ The taxi from a Korean movie about a cabbie who took a German journalist to the center of the Gwangju pro-democracy uprising in 1980 is displayed in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Aug. 20, 2017. Helmed by Jang Hoon, "A Taxi Driver" became this year's first film to attract more than 10 million moviegoers the same day. The film tells the story of a Seoul taxi driver named Man-seop, who happens to take German reporter Jurgen Hinzpeter to Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, for a large offer of money and witnesses the horrors of the bloody military crackdown on the uprising on May 18, 1980. (Yonhap)

In 1980, the director and production team not only created a set that resembled the streets of Geumnam-ro, Dong-gu, Gwangju, where the former Jeollanam-do Provincial Office was built, but also visited and filmed the movie in places around the country that still kept the same atmosphere of Korea in 1980.

The location where Man-seob returns to in Gwangju in order to bring Peter back to Seoul is the Suncheon Express Bus Terminal located in South Jeolla Province, however it was actually shot in the Seongju Bus Terminal at North Gyeongsang Province.

In addition, the security check point at Gimpo Airport in the movie was also actually filmed at the security check point for the Gwangyang Port International Passenger Terminal.



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