Taxi Driver (2021) TV Vigilantism

I’m not sure what it says about me that I am such a sucker for vigilante type stories and get a kick out of seeing baddies having their rear ends handed to them. I certainly know I’m being manipulated to root for the outlaws and apparently I don’t mind. It seems I have some kind of innate aversion to injustices or I have some affinity with underdogs. To me it’s never about revenge or getting even… but poetic justice. Abusers and bullies should live out the punitive consequences of their actions against the vulnerable. Anyway it’s just television, right?

Taxi Driver, like every vigilante story before it, knows how to tug at the heart-strings and build a case for taking action outside of the law. Last week it was a so-called social enterprise exploiting people with disability and treating them like indentured labour. As if that’s not enough visceral physical violence is used to control the hapless workers. They have no recourse. There’s no one they can turn to. The more recent episodes feature a victim of a trio of school bullies. The high school boy who is raised by his hearing-impaired mother, is at the end of his rope and he searches online for ways to die. Then he comes across a persistent ad featuring the taxi crew offering some hope.

The drama makes a reasonably solid case for him. He’s been threatened, beaten and set-up repeatedly. He goes to the school for help but he’s gaslighted. The chief bully uses his wealth and connections to get out of trouble. The cops aren’t much of a help either. He can’t rely on his mother who struggling on her own. School is a place of perpetual dread. Life has no meaning for the lad apart from relentless pain.

There’s much in this episode that reminds me of the 80s television show The Equalizer starring the wonderful Edward Woodward as an ex CIA agent who runs ads in the classified section of the paper to offer help to those who have nowhere else to go. The soundtrack of Taxi has similar cadences to Stewart Copeland’s original work. It’s deliberate nostalgia. The principal of the school comments that Kim Do-gi’s car is so old fashioned for a young man. I made the same comment last time about the analogue tech. Flip switches, push buttons, pagers, cassette recorders. All of which harkens back to an era of crime/superhero television.

The crowning achievement in this show is the casting of Lee Je-hoon as Kim Gi-do. It isn’t just that he manages to pull off the brooding aloof demeanour convincingly but he also manages his alternative identities with wit and humour. His more recent dorky substitute teacher shtick had me in stitches. With a few telling gestures he dons a different role giving the false impression perhaps that he is a pushover… an easy prey for the restless troublemakers. Do-gi has a lovely repertoire mannerisms to boast of: an obsequious grin, a sly smirk, exaggerated utterances, fake laughter, pretend naivete. When another teacher apologizes for falsely accusing him of harassing a student, he does his weepy act for public consumption and sympathy. The entire farce played from beginning to end is such a hoot. It also begs the question , however, as to how an ex-special forces, counter-terrorism officer is so good at acting.

The sting operation at the school is almost entirely played for laughs. Like Leverage, it’s a team effort. Deluxe Taxi is far from being a one-man operation but Do-gi is undoubtedly the front man. I’m also warming up to the only female on the team, Go Eun. Not only does she have plenty of sass, she’s got the comedic chops as well. Her school entry was quite hilarious reminiscent of Leverage’s Parker and her many antics.

When Do-gi turns tables on the troublesome lads there’s plenty of humour to be had. Like in the previous episode, he metes out “justice” by doing to them what they did to their victim, no doubt carrying out the old saying, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth.

However, there’s undoubtedly a dark side to all of this. Director Jang the chief has a fascinating and disturbing duality. He bends over backwards for those who have, like him, been victims of crime. He supports them financially and provides counselling. Nonetheless he is in league with the dubious Ms Baek, the loanshark businesswoman, who is involved in other kinds of unsavoury activities. I wonder if he is aware of her side businesses. He can’t surely approve of them. While Director Jang keeps the culprits in her ever growing dungeon he might be accused of aiding and abetting. How long does he intend to continue keeping them imprisoned? What are his intentions? Those are ongoing questions that remain unanswered so far.

The deluxe taxi project seems to enjoy unlimited resources to carry out their exploits which I imagine must come from the Blue Bird foundation and its generous donors. Would the donors continue supporting this endeavour if they knew what was really going on?

It seems also that Do-gi suffers from PTSD, not from combat experience but from discovering his mother’s murdered corpse in their home while the kettle is on the boil. A particular high-pitch sound affects him negatively and he falls unconscious. Will this be his kryptonite?

I wonder too what the prosecutor, Kang Ha-na’s role is in all of this. I certainly hope there’s more to her than what we’ve seen so far. Her inclusion as a regular must mean something. Perhaps her presence is a reminder that what the taxi crew are doing is well and truly outside the law. As much as we cheer the take down of baddies, the team is operating outside the rule of law. Nobody should be answerable to no one. Not even those with the best intentions.