Taxi Driver: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
Justice is delivered under cover of taxi cabs in SBS’s latest crime thriller Taxi Driver. The drama excels in style, attitude, and world-building, but leaves a little to be desired when it comes to rich character development. But, when it’s Lee Je-hoon that’s driving the revenge plot (pun intended), that might not matter so much, since he can easily convince me that the story is real, and the stakes are high.
Note: This is an opening week review only.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
If there’s one thing that stands out right away in the premiere week of Taxi Driver, it’s the richness of the world it creates. The drama leads with its mood and style, even though we first meet our main characters in their cover stories, not their clandestine side missions.
Our hero is KIM DO-KI (Lee Je-hoon) and we first meet him as a pretty standard taxi driver — he pulls up onto the scene just as a criminal is being released early from his lifelong sentence. But, as you might expect, the cab is not just a cab. The criminal thinks he’s off scot-free, but our hero has other plans. With some pretty impressive driving, and a particularly awesome tunnel scene where two cars change plates and transfer items while driving in tandem, we learn that there’s nothing average about Do-ki — or his skill set.
But we knew that, right? Taxi Driver is based on a webtoon about the Rainbow Taxi Company, and we already know from the get-go that behind the front of a fully-functioning taxi company, there’s an on-call revenge service. The fun, then, is not really what’s revealed but how — and I really like how Taxi Driver does it.
First, we see the yard of the taxi company, then we meet the girl that keeps the books — GO EUN (Pyo Ye-jin) — and two of the main mechanics that work on the taxis: the hilarious and coiffed CHOI KYUNG-GOO (Jang Hyuk-jin) and PARK JIN-UN (Bae Yoo-ram). Do-ki drops off his taxi, has an exchange with the mechanics, and goes on his merry way.
It’s not until we follow Go Eun from the regular taxi office, into a filing cabinet, which turns into a secret elevator, which leads to an underground tunnel, which leads to a secret lair, that we realize how deep their cover really is. Their HQ is much like the Batcave — only it’s almost a little bit cooler, just because it’s so banal. When we get to the part of the reveal where we might see the luscious Batmobile, instead, propped on its dais, is… a deluxe taxi.
We’ve met our crew earlier, but now we see them in their true identities: JANG SUNG-CHUL (Kim Eui-sung) the mastermind of revenge service, Go-eun the hacker, our two engineers, our favorite driver, Do-ki. Together, they make up all the moving parts of any good vigilante operation.
In our premiere week we get a close look at the team in action, as well. We meet a woman, KANG MARIA (Jo In) who’s at the brink of jumping off a bridge, but she’s stopped by a “Deluxe Taxi” sticker that’s placed only where people who have reached their most desperate point would see. “Don’t die — get revenge. We’ll do it for you,” it reads. And so she takes them up on it.
It turns out this woman is part of a disgusting food company that, while pretending to be humanitarian, actually abuses the mentally and physically disabled people that work for them. It’s arguably one of the most heinous things you can do as a human, and Taxi Driver shows us the physical torture and sexual assault in a way that leaves no room for interpretation: these guys are straight-up evil.
We follow Maria from the point of calling the phone number on the sticker, to getting picked up by Do-ki in his taxi, to giving a full record of her situation, and then agreeing to employ their revenge services. The way this whole thing plays out is so imaginative, from the cassette tape recorder that Do-ki has in his taxi, to the arcade video game that Deluxe Taxi uses to confirm terms and clients.
What the drama doesn’t really have in originality of theme, it makes up for in originality of execution, and I loved the technology mashup as much as I did the souped up taxi with its changeable plates, insignia, and markings. Throw in a deadly serious Lee Je-hoon wearing black sunglasses and showing off some slick driving skills, and I’m loving it.
While we’re on the topic of what else I loved about Taxi Driver, the soundtrack really made it for me, and was another element that fed the drama’s world-building. Do-ki driving around at night to an electronic soundtrack like something out of the original Blade Runner was pretty much my favorite thing ever… which is why it’s difficult for me to admit that despite enjoying things about the drama, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the drama itself.
For crime thrillers to really work for me, they have to tell an overarching story about our main characters, and I’m honestly not sure if we’re going to go there with Taxi Driver. Though we do gain some insight via flashback on when/why Do-ki was recruited, and the tragedy that pushed him to that point (sheesh, the boy can
That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting things waiting for us, though. Our vigilante crew might have won revenge for Maria, but there are many more people that need their help. There’s also the prosecutor KANG HANA (Esom) who, like most prosecutors, runs high on intuition. She senses something is lurking beneath the surface of Rainbow Taxi and Sung-chul’s other cover company, and she’s like a dog with a bone.
At the end of our premiere week, Hana shows up at Rainbow Taxi and meets Do-ki for the first time. I’m sure it will be a while before she sees the inner circle, but in addition to the new revenge cases I expect we’ll meet next week, I’m especially looking forward to how Hana finds out the truth behind Rainbow Taxi.
Right now, our vigilante crew might be operating outside of the law, but they’re very much rooted in justice, and just punishment, and are committed to delivering it where the legal system so often fails.
The world they live in is a dark one, where justice is hard to come by, people are capable of unthinkable crimes, and the agony of losing someone you love to thoughtless violence is the bond that brings them together. For a rogue group capable of violent retribution themselves, though, they also seem to be a pretty moral bunch. The motto hanging in Sung-chul’s office is a scripture from the Bible: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our prosecutor also seeks the same justice, though in contrast to our taxi service vigilantes who operate outside the law, she’s operating very much inside the law at this point. However, we’ve gotten enough hints that she’s frustrated by the lack of justice that she witnesses in her post, and I’m guessing (hoping) they’ll all be on the same page before long. And if she wants to ride shotgun with Do-ki in the deluxe taxi, I’m not gonna complain.