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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Retro Review: Taxi Hunter (1993) #Hongkongcinema

Taxi Hunter (Dik Si Hang Dak)
Cast: Anthony Wong, Yu Rong, Perrie Lai, Wu Fung, Ng Man Tat
Genre: Thriller
Hong Kong Box Office Gross: over $4.9 million

Plot: Mild-mannered Ah Kin's life is shattered when his pregnant wife is run over by a busy taxi driver. This and another incident with a sleazy cab driver causes Kin to go on a mission to kill bad taxi drivers

'Taxi Driver Meets Falling Down'

Hong Kong's version of Falling Down, Taxi Hunter sees Anthony Wong, who is known for playing unorthodox and slightly crazed characters in his career, take on another unorthodox role; this time as a busy worker whose life is never the same after a nasty encounter with a taxi driver and his wife is then dragged down the street, after being struck by a cab, which leads to revenge, vengeance and anarchy.

Kin is very much like Michael Douglas's character: he wears a shirt and tie, glasses. It's funny that this movie came out in the same year as Falling Down. Kin's life couldn't be any better: a great career who is also on the verge of being promoted, a loving wife - but then all that changes after one fateful night cost him his wife and unborn child.

Unlike Falling Down, Taxi Hunter is a lot more light-hearted in tone, with some comical aspects sprinkled. Given the plot, I feel that this film could have done without it and to have it functioned as a serious thriller. The first 20 mins see the film almost similar-ish to Nine months, which is all cheerful and playful, but after that, it descends into a dark, thriller mode and it becomes sort of like Falling Down.

Taxi Hunter has the following components: pregnant wife and husband trying to get her to the hospital (Nine Months), the crazed and frustrated worker who dishes out violence (Falling Down), Ah Kin who then loses it and whilst his actions are premeditated, his motives are pure (Monster). He only kills the bad taxi drivers, such as the ones who try to rape women, treat their clients like crap or overcharge on their fares. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law, a cop is forced to put an end to Kin's antics, once and for all. Taxi Hunter is also a spin on the premise of Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver and the film goes about it in a curious manner.

Where the comparisons with Falling Down ends is that Ah Kin, is not a completely dislikeable person and that he doesn't have hate and utter contempt. When he sees a driver raping a young woman, he comes to her aid, but after that, he goes ballistic, but not to an extent his actions are construed as being utterly depraved. He comes across as being nerdy and yet hasn't gotten over the death of his wife.

Taxi Hunter is slightly - yet no more violent and tragic: the killings/murders, the depiction of the drivers is one-sided and are portrayed in a negative light as money-grabbers, who ignore their customers and they end up getting killed. It is more of a dark exploitation comedy, underpinned by the violence and of Kin's actions. Taxi Hunter is mostly inspired by a real-life taxi strike that led to a falling out between the drivers and customers.

Anthony Wong is an actor by trade: he is one of those talents from Hong Kong who is up there with Kevin Bacon, insofar as being renowned for playing anti- hero and villain roles in movies, and yet who is also brimming with talent. For me, he is almost like the Chinese version of Bacon, roles and talents-wise. It would have been nice to see him break the U.S market: as much as I love and enjoy Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, having an established actor become a success outside of Hong Kong and have a much larger range of films under his credit, Wong (who is part-British and was born to a British father and Hong Kong Chinese mother), for me anyway, certainly deserves it. And that's despite going on record to say that working with John Woo on Hard Boiled was a nightmare. And here, his performance is solid, commendable and brimming with vulnerability, as well as confidence. At first, I felt sympathy towards him, but later on, his actions and behaviour border on psychotic and that sort of changed, slightly. On the other hand, Ng Man Tat as the so-called comic relief was too buffoonish and silly for me to like. He just dragged the film down for me and in all honesty, he shouldn't really be in this one.

Regarding the film, judging by the poster, I'd expected Taxi Hunter to be a lot more serious in tone and as a straight up thriller, but the tone is very odd, but also intriguing. As the film progresses, it veers more towards shooting the drivers, with the cops trying to catch Kin. I enjoyed the first half, the middle of it was okay and the last third was somewhat good. But I just wasn't blown away by it: besides Wong's performance, I expected a whole lot more from Taxi Hunter and yet it could have used a lot more pizazz and excitement.

Final Verdict:

Taxi Hunter is basically a vehicle for Anthony Wong to once again go all loony, and also it has plenty of screen time to showcase his acting talents and to deliver his lines with proficiency and vigour. Yet compared to Wong's other showings, this one isn't as extreme as The Untold Story and The Ebola Syndrome.

Compared to other Hong Kong Category III movies, the violence is a lot more restrained and isn't as heavy as I'd come to expect. I thought it would be just as exciting and heavy- hitting with the action and violence, as say Hard Boiled, but it just wasn't. It is far less the ultra-violent film that I'd originally anticipated. Although seeing Kin with a blood soaked face towards the end, it looked unpleasant.

Taxi Hunter isn't a tremendous movie, but I can't deny that it was watchable: taking elements from other American films, injecting some of that Hong Kong flair and making something unique out of it, this is enjoyable and different to what I am usually used to seeing. & Anthony Wong is great here.

But the narrative needed a bit more depth and the main cop characters here are far less interesting here, compared to the ones in Falling Down. 

Nonetheless, If you enjoyed Michael Douglas in Falling Down and that movie, then I'd recommend you check out this offering, also.


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