Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Herman Yau's Taxi Hunter (1993)

Kin (Anthony Wong), despite his nerdish attire, which includes glasses and short-sleeves and a tie, is a highly-resourceful and successful insurance salesman. The very definition of mild-mannered, he's also very kind; and his wife (Perrie Lai) is expecting their first child. Kin's future bodes well. Chung (Rongguang Yu) is a stellar, superhero cop, very good-looking and also resourceful. Chung is very much happy for his friend Kin and his wife. On the way home from the office after learning that he is due for a promotion, Kin gets into a minor car accident with a taxi cab. Obviously a scheme, the taxi driver calls two of his friends and forces Kin to pay up a sum of money immediately to settle the claim. With his car damaged, Kin and his wife become dependent on the taxis in and around Hong Kong, and taxi drivers are not nice folks: they demand higher fares for particular destinations, refuse to go to particular destinations completely, and are generally distasteful and grumpy people. One evening during a rainstorm, Kin's wife begins to bleed and immediately grasps her abdomen. Kin summons a cab via phone, and his good fortune runs cold: the initial cab driver sneaks another fare for a higher sum and leaves Kin and his wife stranded...A second cab comes along and refuses to take Kin's wife to the hospital, because "she'll bleed all over the taxi." Adding fatal injury to insult, the cab driver in a mad dash to leave, accidentally drags Kin's wife several feet, killing her and her unborn child. Wong's Kin begins to see the world a little differently after that evening, and within his sights, he takes on the city's taxi drivers in Herman Yau's Taxi Hunter (1993). Chung's assigned to the case and is determined to find who's targeting the taxi drivers. From the opening frame, it is quite obvious that Taxi Hunter is a playful take on Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and much purer in its exploitation elements. Like Taxi Driver, Taxi Hunter is buttressed by a stellar performance by its leading man, Anthony Wong, whose character takes a very sharp turn into psychosis and doesn't look back. Wong's Kin is initially a sympathetic character but when he becomes the taxi hunter, Kin's intense and brutal. "What is your main reason for taking a certain role?" asks an interviewer (from Cine East by Miles Wood, FAB Press, 1998). Anthony Wong responds, "Money. Most are just for money." The interviewer follows up this question with another to Wong: "Are there any you've done for other less mercenary reasons?" Wong responds, "Some. Taxi Hunter. I think that's an interesting film. It's by the same director as The Untold Story, Herman Yau. We changed the script, and worked on the dialogue every night to make it more interesting." Herman Yau has this to say about his leading man (from an interview with Yau included in Asian Cult Cinema, No. 35, Vital Books, 2002): "Anthony Wong is a good friend of mine. We've been friends for nearly 18 years. He acted in my film when I was a film student. I think he is a very talented actor, and maybe the best contemporary actor of our time. He's very creative and has his own characteristics."
Wong gives a fantastic performance, and he and Yau really take the time during the exposition of Taxi Hunter to make his character, Kin, innocuous, sympathetic, and timid. In fact, Wong's character and how he performs his job (cutting breaks on premium payments to customers, for example) make him the very personification of not tough. The stereotypical nerdish outfit, glasses and short-sleeves and tie, only reinforces this notion, as he looks like someone who could be pushed around at will. It's a clever set-up for Wong's transformation, and in a pivotal scene, Wong's Kin is sitting alone on some outside steps, eating lunch from a styrofoam container. He looks sad and dejected as his wife has just died. Kin watches as a woman is being berated by a taxi driver. Kin doesn't drop his lunch or even finish chewing the mouthful that he has but confidently strides across moving traffic and slaps the taxi driver forcefully across the face. As the title suggests, the taxi drivers become Kin's prey. Kin's "hunting" scenes are brilliant sequences of exploitation: Yau and Wong craft one that's particularly impulsive and kinetic; another which is quite humorous and a play on a famous scene in Taxi Driver; and one that is ice cold and brutal.
As Wong noted from the excerpt from his interview above, he found Kin's character interesting. The interviewer from Asian Cult Cinema remarks to Yau during his interview corroborating Wong's statement and asks Yau: "What motivated you to make that film [Taxi Hunter]?" Yau responds, "It is not based on a true story, but, besides the killing revenge of Anthony, characters and some of the incidents are based on real persons that I know and incidents that I have experienced. You know why I made up my mind to have a driving license? It was because I didn't want to get into a taxi anymore. I've had very bad experiences taking taxis and the bad experiences were put into the movie." No doubt that Yau wasn't alone in bad experiences with taxi drivers, and Taxi Hunter appears to take a perverse thrill in enacting its revenge upon those characters with a sympathetic public. In one scene, Wong pulls off a brutal murder in front of a very elderly would-be taxi passenger. Her reaction to Wong's murder and the statement that she gives to the police are reflections of the public sympathy that Yau is attempting to elicit.
As Wong's character, Kin, makes a fascinating character study, Yau remembers that Taxi Hunter is also an entertaining exploitation film. Yu's Chung is the vehicle for the dramatic action as he and his partner, a bumbling homeboy, Gao (Ng Man Tat), begin investigating the taxi driver killings. Yau even drops a would-be romance between Gao's daugter, Mak (Athena Chu), and Yu. Not only do these scenes drive the dramatic action with the investigation but they also serve as a foil to Wong's intense performance: Yu is the good-looking, righteous cop; Gao provides the slapstick humor; and Mak is the sassy, sweet, and beautiful lady who rounds out and spices up the cast. I have never found fault in Yau's direction of action sequences or how his films appear visually: Taxi Hunter is another example of his creative talent in both of these facets. As the film has a hodgepodge of motifs, focused primarily upon Wong's intense character, Yau changes his visual style to match each: the night scenes with Wong are very dark and brooding, while, for example, the scenes with Yu's Chung are shot primarily in the day (Chung's signature white t-shirt and Adonis-like physique not only counterbalance Wong's appearance but make him much more an "angelic" hero.)The recent DVD release by Discotek Media of Taxi Hunter looks terrific in anamorphic widescreen. The only fault of the release is the lack of supplements (which I always love, like interviews and commentaries). A collection of cool trailers is included along with English subtitles for the feature (and chapter stops). All quotes from Wong and Yau are from their interviews, respectively, from their sources as quoted from within.

No comments: