The crazy freewheeling life of a lovestruck taxi driver eventually takes a turn for the contemplative in Chen Yi-wen & Chang Hwa-kun’s infinitely charming comedy, The Cabbie (運転手之戀, yùn zhuǎn shǒu zhī liàn). Despite the film’s sunny atmosphere, darkness does indeed hang around the edges in the frequent references to car accidents and dismemberment yet it seems to be something that the affable hero can live with as he narrates a series of strange incidents from his ordinary life while meditating on his zany family when faced with mortal anxiety.
As taxi driver Quan (Chu Chung-heng) points out, life can be pretty strange. His taxi can sometimes act as an unofficial confessional as his fares take the opportunity to unburden themselves to a complete stranger in a confined space, confessing the embarrassing details of their lives and even at one point seemingly confessing to a murder. Quan takes it in his stride, feeling as if he is one with his cab, Ah Di, and duty-bound to deliver his charges to their rightful destinations physical and emotional. Yet in an odd way it’s almost as if we’ve become the driver in this story and Quan is our fare, breaking the the fourth wall to speak to us directly of his strange life and the circumstances which led to this present turn of events.
Quan is however unusual in that he tells his mother and father quite directly that he has no intention of marrying, giving a fairly logical reasoning based on the fact he believes women do not like him and he is not apparently much interested in them. This is of course a source of anxiety for his parents, his taxi driver father also turning fare in ranting at an old lady at the convenience store about his wayward son before trying to awaken something within him by gifting him porn. His mother meanwhile, the local coroner, decides to give up on him while ordering Quan to freeze his sperm so she can have a grandchild with or without his direct involvement at some point down the line.
In any case, Quan changes his mind on falling in love at first sight with grumpy policewoman Jingwen (Japanese actress Rie Miyazawa, dubbed into Mandarin). Taking his mother’s advice about making an impression (not necessarily a good one) to heart, Quan decides the best way to woo his crush is to get fined by her as many times as possible. Even so there’s an undeniable Romeo and Juliet vibe to their relationship given the natural animosity between taxi drivers and traffic cops, along with a sense of cosmic irony that feeds directly back into the film’s darker themes. So much of life for Quan is coincidence, an act of cosmic collision not unlike the car crashes that occur so frequently outside the taxi depot. Quan encounters Jingwen by chance and then continues to push his luck by meeting her again in similar circumstances until she gives in to his unusual ardour. Yet not all of these accidents end well. One of Quan’s neighbours earns extra cash turning up at crash sites and making sure that the family gets all of the deceased’s body parts, reaching under twisted metal to retrieve pieces of severed flesh while his mother is indeed a coroner with a severed head in a jar sitting proudly in her office.
In the end it might be that Quan is a mere passenger of fate, relating his life to us as it flashes before his eyes while threatened by a weird fare. What begins as absurd nonsense comedy as Quan tells us about his crazy family and the strangers who climb into his cab eventually takes an unexpected, poignant turn for the existential even as Quan continues to closely identify himself with Ah Di which might beg the question of who is driving who. Madcap and anarchic, there is something genuinely cheerful in Quan’s often simple existence governed both by chance and the rules of the road lending a fatalistic pall to all of his otherwise freewheeling adventures. Things don’t always always go right for him, but even when they go wrong it’s generally in the right way. Fast-forwarding though the “boring bits”, Quan races us through his life in the cab before taking us where we need to go keeping it cheerful while preparing for the inevitable collision with cosmic irony.
The Cabbie screens 20th October as part of this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.
Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)