Taxi Driver gets off to a stylish and compelling start in a dark, intriguing opening chapter.
This recap of Taxi Driver season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
Taxi Driver, a new k-drama taking over the SBS Fridays and Saturdays slot between the second and third seasons of The Penthouse, has a compelling premise that is established with great style in the opening episode. Following the release of notorious sex offender Jo Do-Chul (Jo Hyun-Woo) from prison, he’s spirited away from a baying crowd in a premium taxi that is supposed to be heading to Busan. But the driver, Do-Ki (Lee Je-Hoon), with help from some hidden collaborators, speeds off in entirely the wrong direction, and after a bit of a fight and a neat hand-off in a tunnel, takes him away to parts unknown.
Do-Ki, see, works for the Rainbow Taxi Service, a secretive outfit that exists entirely to take revenge on those who have wronged others. They operate out of a hidden lair under the cover of a legitimate taxi firm, and there’s a whiff of James Bond about the whole operation, with Choi Kyung-Koo (Jang Hyuk-Jin) and Park Jin-Eon (Bae Yoo-Ram), a pair of dopey engineers, providing modifications to the vehicles and mission support (audiences got a glimpse of them in the opening scene, holding up Do-Chul’s pursuers). No-nonsense Go Eun (Pyo Ye-Jin) attempts to keep them all in check, while Jang Sung-Cheol (Kim Eui-Sung), who made the handoff with Do-Ki in the tunnel, heads the whole service while doubling as the CEO of Bluebird, an advocacy group for victims of violent crimes.
Sung-Cheol’s work with Bluebird puts him in close proximity to Ha-Na (Esom), an investigator out of the prosecutor’s office assigned to him by Jo Jin-Woo (Yoo Seung-Mok), and Taxi Driver episode 1 makes clear that there’s a cat-and-mouse element developing here as Ha-Na investigates Do-Chul’s disappearance. But as well as being an introduction to the Rainbow service and Do-Ki’s facility for beating up goons, this opener also develops the story of Kang Maria (Jo In), a young woman with learning disabilities who is led to Rainbow by a sign on the bridge she is about to commit suicide by jumping off of: “Don’t kill yourself. Get revenge. We’ll do it for you.”
Maria’s backstory makes clear that Taxi Driver isn’t afraid to get grim. After leaving an orphanage (Lee Chae-Bin, Lee Chun-Moo, and Choi Hyun-Jin play the children she tearfully parts ways with), Maria is taken by Choi Jong-Sok (Kim Do-Yeon) to what she believes is a legitimate employment opportunity working with computers. But she’s really to descale fish as essentially a slave of Park Joo-Chan (Tae Hang-Ho) and Jo Jong-Geun (Song Duk-Ho), a despicable pair who torture her when she says she’s scared of the fish. An escape attempt is foiled by Chief Kim Hyung-Wook (Jo Dae-Hee), a corrupt cop, and she’s taken for further torture.
Of course, in the present day, after being picked up and dropped off by Do-Ki, she’s presented with a special coin that operates the Rainbow Taxi arcade machine, which is presumably how jobs are booked. It lays out a few ground rules and then gives Maria the option to choose revenge or forgiveness. Naturally, and rightly, she chooses revenge.
From here Taxi Driver episode 1 delights in the planning and execution of the revenge operation, mixing in some humor to counterbalance all the heavy drama of Maria’s abuse. A plan is quickly hatched involving chicken laced with sedatives, and knocking the men out allows Do-Ki to slip inside their place, open their safe and hack their phones. But when he sees the evidence of what Maria went through on the devices, we see him menacingly raise a vase over the heads of the sleeping men.
What we’re seeing here suggests that Do-Ki has a particular hatred for men who harm women, and has a temper he finds difficult to control, which is only confirmed by a flashback to 2017 which details how he and Sung-Cheol met. The latter was in a crowd of onlookers gathered outside a home where a maniac named Nam Kyu-Jung (Kim Kang-Il) had evidently murdered the people inside. Do-Ki himself was also in that crowd, his eyes filled with tears, obviously having some connections to the victims. During a macabre demonstration of the killer’s attacks, which I have no idea why the police would have him perform right outside the scene, Do-Ki flips out and assaults a bunch of police officers trying to get to Kyu-Jung. He’s eventually tased and restrained, but he captures Sung-Cheol’s attention nonetheless. On the same bridge where Maria also contemplated suicide, Do-Ki considers ending his life, but he instead becomes a driver for Sung-Cheol, ready to take revenge on behalf of people just like him.