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April 21, 2013

Terror Taxi with Lee Seo Jin - Korean film review

Gilnam grins from behind the wheel of his new cab in Terror TaxiTerror Taxi or 공포택시 (2000) is not the B-horror film I expected from the title. Although it opens with a gravity-defying hit and run murder, we know nothing about the victim or the reason for his death. He is soon forgotten as we meet Kim Gilnam (Lee Seo Jin), a happy, extroverted young cabbie. Gilnam is moving up in the world, having just purchased his own car, and is planning to propose to his girlfriend (Choi Yoojung).

It was refreshing to see LSJ playing such a normal guy, since his roles tend to be deeply conflicted and/or repressed characters, often with severe anger management problems. He has said that comedy doesn’t suit him, but he has a way with a comic monologue, in this case trying on different ways to pop the question. See also Kang Jae the gangster duking it out with his uncooperative laptop as he tries to transition to white collar life in Lovers.

Alas, we don’t get to enjoy him this way for long. Before we are 10 minutes into the film, an unexpected event has propelled him into a bizarre and oddly stagnant parallel world, where he makes new friends, discovers new enemies, and tries to reach back to the life he left behind.

Nari points a colorful toy gun at the villain's tiresThe new world is a strange urban landscape, and the new friends are pretty strange too. My favorite is Nari (Hwa Chae Lin), a saucy, streetsmart young girl ghost (yeah, I have a thing for those), who pops in and out like the Chesire cat. However, she is soon upstaged by a gay (I think) couple of ghost cabbies (Chung Hye Kyun and Chung Jae Young), who first badger the newcomer, and then take him under their wing.

As Gilnam adapts to his new world and tries to make sure his girlfriend is OK in his absence, an ominous and elusive presence emerges. Many car chases ensue, a villain is unmasked, and in a final confrontation, the karmic circle is closed.

Terror Taxi is slightly more adult than your usual Kdrama. There is copious swearing throughout, which in some cases is stronger in the English subtitles than in the Korean dialogue (quite a switch from Korean TV subtitles). By Korean horror standards, blood is scarce, though there are a few gruesome scenes.

The devices used to visually identify the supernatural villain are seriously clichéd, though the villain car was more convincing. The are also some fun flying car scenes, most notably in a subway tube. The villain’s backstory could have used a little more attention. Since we mostly hear about it in exposition, it seems woefully inadequate motivation for his behavior. Still, there is as much character development as you could reasonably expect in 90 minutes, and far more than you’d find in an American film of this type.
sparks fly as two cards racing side by side scrape front fenders

The production values in Terror Taxi are also a cut above a B horror film, and if you are into car chases, this film will make you very happy. I watched it on the Cineworld DVD for the US, which is widely available for under $5 (shipping including) on eBay. Netflix also has it. Among the extras on the disk are a “Making Of” feature on the car chase scenes, which is far scarier than the film when you realize they were really doing most of that stuff, without much of a safety net.

The disk also includes two sets of actor interviews (both in the Making Of segment). They are unscripted, and riddled with spoilers, so don’t watch them before you watch the film.

Lee Seo Jin looks on in shock as unexpected allies arrive in the nick of timeAlthough this film is sometimes referred to as Ghost Taxi in English, Terror Taxi, or Taxi of Terror is the literal translation. As Lee Seo Jin’s first film appearance, it’s a must-see for LSJ fans. Im Ho fans will also want to see it, though they may be left wanting more. Jung Jae Young and Jung Hae Kyun, who met while shooting Terror Taxi, worked together again in the 2012 film Confession of Murder. Choi Yoojung has become a popular Korean “racing model” (scantily clad girl draped over car).

The conglomeration of weird humor, horror and romance is odd, but Koreans are not nearly as rigid about their genre boundaries as Hollywood is, and it works. Although (or perhaps because) the film borrows from several genres, it is more original than the sum of its parts. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Related posts:
Films & dramas with Lee Seo Jin

6 comments to Terror Taxi – Korean film review

  • Kim in Gran Couva

    I actually liked that it was more comedy than horror. Despite what he says LSJ can do comedy- maybe not the slapstick kind but his humorous lines, situations where he jumped to fight mode and also when he criticised the language skills of one ghost taxi-driver (who i thought was hilarious) were funny. There was a moment when the kid told him that girlfriends dont behave that way to people they love, which seemed to hurt him, but as you noted, how much character development can you get in 1 1/2 hours. It was an amusing and sometimes exciting movie and early LSJ was also hot.

    • Mihansa

      He can totally do comedy, right? I loved his relationship with the little girl – wish we’d seen a little more of her, but I’m glad she reappeared to rescue him. Her role was pivotal to the plot, though in such an understated way that it’s easy to overlook it. She is putting two and two together long before the adults are.

      Have you noticed how often children in Kdrama and film are quite outspoken and independent? You’ll see a couple of scenes like that in Lovers, too, when you watch it. Now that I think of it, that line must’ve been a red herring, since it later becomes clear that his girlfriend most certainly did love him. I liked the way they were just talking the last time we saw them together. We didn’t need to hear what they were saying to understand what a relief it was for both of them to be able to do that.

      Here are some even earlier LSJ photos for you. Check out the earring.

      Young Lee Seo Jin in formal wear with an earringEarly headshot of Lee Seo Jin against a dramatic black background

      Did you watch the actor interviews yet?

  • Kim in Gran Couva

    Yes i agree about the role that kids play in some shows and yes i saw the interviews- kookie but endearing. Question- who would want a ghost boyfriend looking over them forever? doesn’t that rule out any other real companion? It’s interesting that 3 guys in this short film went on to roles with more gravitas (kings) in saeguks. I guess that it’s true what they say- there are no small roles.

    I love the earing, the ears, the rest…. my LSJ addiction doesnt need to be fed, it’s always alive.

    • Mihansa

      Careful, there. Take a deep breath, and exhale slowly.

      I always wondered whether he was pierced on both sides or just one. I’ve only seen a few earring photos (usually his hair covers), and only on the left side.

      Hmm, good point about the eternal boyfriend. For the moment, girlfriend seems desperately in need of any kind of friend. But later…

      The female population of the afterlife seemed pretty sparse, did you notice?

  • Kim in Gran Couva

    yes. the dead women go to Muslim heaven since each patriot there is entitled to 72 virgins. Poor Buddists and Confucians.

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