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Lee Je-hoon plays the cool and confident Kim Do-ki in the K-drama Taxi Driver.

K-drama midseason recap: Taxi Driver – revenge drama dispatches colourful villains with aplomb

  • Over the last three weeks the Rainbow Taxi Company has taken on two new cases highlighting ills of modern Korean society: coerced pornography and voice phishing
  • The highlight of the series to date, the voice phishing mission shows star Lee Je-hoon’s gift for comedy as he poses as a suave Chinese-Korean gangster

This article contains spoilers.

Ten episodes in, Taxi Driver continues to be a smooth ride, veering confidently between a serialised and episodic narrative as it cruises through a panoply of colourful villains. Yet these invariably irascible antagonists are seldom a match for series lead Lee Je-hoon, effortless as the cool and confident titular wheelman.

Over the last three weeks the secret vigilantes at the Rainbow Taxi Company have taken on two new cases – the corporate frat boys of the U-data cloud computing firm and a Chinese-Korean gang of scammers.

Carrying on from the countryside slave labour racket and the high school bullies that the Rainbow team has already dispatched, these new villains highlight different pariahs of modern Korean society – coerced pornography and voice phishing.

For the U-data mission, which has been the longest one yet at four episodes, things start with a different social problem: workplace bullying. A recent recruit at the high-powered firm quickly finds himself in the inner circle but things turn sour for him just as quickly when he falls foul of his superiors, especially the big boss, the petulant Chairman Park (Baek Hyun-jin).

The young employee quits the firm, but when he posts something online about his mistreatment at U-data, their retribution is swift. Rainbow is on the case and Kim Do-ki (Lee) poses as a sycophantic young jobseeker who easily ingratiates himself to his interview panellists, each sporting shocks of neon red, green and orange hair.

In slick Korean drama series Taxi Driver, Lee Je-hoon is out for revenge

Do-ki goes to work, but on his first day he bumps yet again into gutsy prosecutor Kang Ha-na (Esom), who is also investigating the company. Naturally, Ha-na is growing increasingly suspicious of Do-ki and the Blue Bird Foundation run by his boss Jang Sung-chul (Kim Eui-sung), but her investigations into U-data are thwarted by people above her clearly in their pocket.

The workplace dynamic at U-data is predatory and driven by naked greed. In a nod to the idolatrous corporate culture satirised in The Wolf of Wall Street , Chairman Park is treated like a rock star in the office and literally rains cash down on his employees when the going’s good.

But beyond being a mean boss, a much darker secret soon comes to the fore. The secretive strategic department that Do-ki eventually weasels his way into traffics coerced sex tapes online. Not only that, one of their victims was none other than the sister of Ahn Go-eun (Pyo Ye-jin), the hacker in the Rainbow crew.

Pyo Ye-jin in a still from Taxi Driver.

Go-eun’s sister committed suicide as a result of her victimisation, so this mission suddenly hits all too close to home, setting off a traumatic episode that temporarily sidelines her. The U-data mission is a very entertaining one with a compelling set of villains, but as with some of its earlier cases, Taxi Driver’s depiction of a real social ill and its consequences brings it into somewhat thorny territory.

As Sung-chul explains Go-eun’s backstory to Do-ki, he suggests that her sister had no option but to take her own life. The outrage sparked by last year’s shocking “Nth Room” scandal – a massive case of systemic blackmail and cybersex trafficking – remains very fresh, but suggesting that sexual humiliation necessarily removes the desire for life is a troubling logical leap.

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Furthermore, Go-eun’s hysterical reaction when her trauma is reawakened may be narratively motivated, but it’s hard to imagine a male character being depicted in the same way.

Next up for the Rainbow revengers is a voice phishing scam, that only falls on their radar when mechanic Kyung-goo (Jang Hyuk-jin) himself becomes a victim. This mission, which sees Do-ki pose as a suave Chinese-Korean gangster who woos the bucktoothed chief scammer Bok-ja (Shim So-young), is an utter delight and the highlight of the series to date.

Do-ki dons a big fur coat and tinted glasses for the part and as he grows closer to villainess Bok-ja, the show turns up a Wong Kar-wai-esque vibe. In one dinner date scene, during which Do-ki seductively shells a crab leg for Bok-ja, the mood and music is unquestionably straight out of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love .
Baek Hyun-jin in a still from Taxi Driver.

The two episodes devoted to this case are atmospheric and cathartic, while also being very funny. Lee has no trouble playing all these capable personas, but his gift for comedy is also a huge asset, particularly during the mock aching romance called for during this mission.

All the while, Ha-na keeps drawing closer to the truth behind Sung-chul and Do-ki, and we also have sex offender Jo Do-chul (Jo Hyun-woo), who briefly escaped the clutches of loan shark Baek Sung-mi (Cha Ji-yeon).

All these serial elements are likely to collide soon, but the real question is: who are the exciting villains that Taxi Driver will introduce us to next, and how will the scrappy Rainbow crew take them down?

Cha Ji-yeon (left) and Kim Eui-sung in a still from Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver is streaming on Viu.