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Taxi Blues

Directed by Choiha, Dong-ha, 2005
23 October 2009

In Seoul, there are 70 thousand taxies including 20 thousand corporate taxies and 40 thousand private taxies threading across the city. In most cases, a taxi driver works 12 hour shifts and must complete 20 to 30 trips a day in order to take home the most meagre of earnings after paying 80 to 100 dollars to the taxi company. The taxi drivers go to every nook and cranny of the city with a variety of passengers at their side or in the back seat.

Taxi drivers also often share the consequences of Korea’s drinking culture and are often obligated to drive home customers who are sometimes too drunk to walk or to even remember their home address. The director of this film, Choiha, Dong-ha, worked one summer as a taxi driver. The director, who had previously made noted documentaries such as Mindullae  (1999) and Patriot Game (2001), decided to film his experiences over that summer. He mounted a small camera on the dashboard of his taxi and left it running as he drove back and forth across the city of Seoul.

In doing so, he captured memorable images of the ordinary residents of the city- not all of them flattering. Young couples argue and fight; older passengers argue about politics; women talk about plastic surgery. He also captured images of himself and as the film progresses in roughly chronological order, one can see how the exhaustion and the stress of the job begin to wear on the director’s nerves. The film also interestingly captures the relationship between the driver and his customers.

In one sense the variety of response is as diverse as the number of customers who climb into his taxi. A few look to him for comfort while others ignore him completely. In some cases, particularly to wards the end of the summer, when the stress of the job begins to take its toll; there are confrontations between the driver and his customers, sometimes threatening to escalate into violence. But even in the most everyday exchanges between the driver and the customer, one is made aware of the fundamental imbalance in the relationship. Given the demeaning nature of the job and the close to inhumane working conditions, this documentary gives viewers new insights into a profession that for many people, seems too ordinary even to be noticed.

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