88 Films offers a first-time Blu-ray edition of director Herman Yau’s crime drama “Taxi Hunter.”

For two days in January 1984, Hong Kong experienced its first riot in 17 years. The violence stemmed from outrage over a tax increase which impacted the taxi drivers of the region. According to The New York Times, over 150 people were arrested and 130 were detained after a period of looting, vandalism, arson, and more. From here, director/co-writer Herman Yau (Ebola Syndrome/Shock Wave) and co-writers Tony Leung Siu-Hung (In the Line of Duty 5), Ray Mak (Cop Image), and Lau Yin drew inspiration for their 1993 drama film, Taxi Hunter (的士判官), wherein an average insurance officer turns to murder after tragedy. Directed by Yau and starring actors Anthony Chau-Sang Wong (Infernal Affairs), Rongguang Yu (Shanghai Noon), Man-Tat Ng (A Moment of Romance), and Hoi-Shan Lai (Hard Boiled), Taxi Hunter is receiving its first Blu-ray release in 1080p via distributor 88 Films, accompanied by several special features to explore the film beyond the credits.

Things are going well for Ah Kin (Wong) and his expecting wife (Perrie Lai Hoi-San). He’s a success at work, slated for promotion, and his wife’s nesting phase is nothing less than a delight. However, everything changes when a terrible tragedy occurs, in large part to the greed of one cab driver and the disdain and disinterest of another, setting Kin down a path from which there is no moral ground to recover.

Though this film is 30 years old, let’s cover the home release before exploring the film itself in case folks would prefer a more spoiler-free experience when they watch.

As with recent 88 Films release, Magic Cop, Taxi Hunter includes a protective slip cover made of more durable material than a standard slip, along with new artwork which is also designed by Sean Longmore. Do note that this O-Ring slip may only be available with the first pressing, though neither 88 Films nor MVD Entertainment Group confirm this in their press materials. Inside there is a reversible poster that has the new Longmore-designed art on one side and the original Hong Kong poster art on the other. This is the same with the liner art, enabling owners to choose between the new or classic look. For fans of the original art, be advised that the disc is decorated with a condensed version of the Longmore design which also features the displayed characters in different positions.

The on-disc features include a feature-length commentary track with frequent 88 Films and Arrow Films contributor and Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng, three featurettes featuring scriptwriter and producer Tony Leung Hung-Wah, action director James Ha, and actor Wong, respectively. It’s unclear from the materials whether these are new or archived interviews, but they do dig into this film, as well as other aspects of the filmmaking process, which makes their exploration worthwhile.

In terms of the restoration, Taxi Hunter is fairly solid. Given the snippets of the film presented during the featurettes, one gets a sense that the prior 2010 U.S. DVD release featured blown out audio and video. Even with the 2.0 mono audio track, the sound presentation is clear, dialogue crisp, and sound effects/scoring at a nice even volume. The samples suggest a great deal of clipping and there’s none that’s noticeable in the HD edition. The video also appears enhanced compared to the snippets, with colors sharper, less of a halo around characters in scenes with white backgrounds, and a generally more natural look throughout. It won’t blow anyone away like a 2K or 4K HD restoration might, but it’s a significant enough improvement that fans of HK cinema won’t take issue with the overall presentation. Having reviewed several 88 Films releases this year, the one thing that’s been consistent with each is their quality, and this one’s no exception.

Now’s where we get into the film itself, so keep that in mind if you’re less familiar with the film’s narrative.

There a few things to note with the film and its original release. At the time of its initial run, Taxi Hunter was described as “infamous” due to its Category III rating in Hong Kong, likely due to subject matter and violence. This is an 18+ rating, which is the equivalent to the U.S.-based NC-17. Now, the NC-17 rating is most often seen as essentially an X-rating (typically given to pornography), and there’s an argument to be had that the R-rating covers everything an audience needs to know about a film, but the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) continues to make its rating determinations based on antiquated Puritanical views. I mention this solely to create perspective as I express that the violence and its presentation within Taxi Hunter, through the lens of today’s standards, is easily an R and nothing harder. One victim gets stabbed with a broken bottle, but it’s not grotesque in either presentation or execution. Another victim is shot repeatedly in various body parts, a choice by Kin to articulate to the victim the sort of pain that person was inflicting on the woman he was attacking moments before, but, other than visible red staining, it’s not particularly gory. There are only two moments when the film rides a line with its violence and it’s when Kin’s pregnant wife (mid-miscarriage) is dragged by a cab down the road, and at the end of the film when Kin receives a moral comeuppance. In both cases, the situation is more violent and disturbing in concept that what the audience sees in the act or the aftermath. The reason to express it this way, to provide examples, is so that modern audiences understand that, at the time of release, the presentation of violence and the concepts explored were considered pushing the boundaries of what was ok to screen in theaters. Strangely, had this been released in the U.S., even in 1993, I doubt taxi Hunter would’ve been slapped with an NC-17 rating as Lethal Weapon (1987) and Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) had considerably more violence that was certainly more graphic and they only earned an R. For a more direct comparison, look to director Joel Schumacher’s 1993 crime drama Falling Down, which sees a similarly ordinary man go on a rampage against indecency through L.A.. Both films center a reasonable person pushed to a breaking point (Michael Douglas’s William Foster tired of society’s general ill-treatment of everyone else vs. Wong’s Kin who’s been personally maligned by cab drivers prior to the death of his wife and grows frustrated at the prolific malignancy of shitty people within the cab organization), and both end with a brand of justice being served, but one tends to side with Kin a bit more easily than with Foster, given his losses.

Additionally, while the performances from the cast are engaging, the balance of humor to drama doesn’t always land. Much of this comes from Man-Tat Ng’s police officer Gao who wears youthful attire, continually cracks jokes, and plays the coward to Rongguang Yu’s roguish Sgt. Chung. This may be a result of cultural differences more than anything, as the performance from Ng is otherwise strong, but too few of his character’s shenanigans draw an audible laugh. Especially in contrast to the truly unfortunate circumstances that drive the drama, not just Kin’s loss but that his best friend, Chung, is leading the case to track down the killer (Kin), the comedy doesn’t so much lighten the mood and feel inappropriate.

Ultimately, if one is a fan of Hong Kong cinema, this is worth checking out simply for its historical significance. There’s nothing shocking or startling about the narrative and the bloodletting doesn’t generate the kind of disquiet that a film rated Category III otherwise might, yet the drama of the circumstance is enough to keep one engaged, curious to see how it all shakes out. Thankfully, even if I wouldn’t whole-heartedly recommend the film, the restoration is of a quality that I’m at least comfortable stating as worth the coin. Keep all of this in mind if you’re on the fence.

Taxi Hunter Special Features:

  • Double Walled Matt Finish O-Ring featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore
  • Double-sided foldout poster
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
  • Lossless 2.0 Cantonese Mono
  • Newly Translated English Subtitles
  • Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Frank Djeng
  • Hunting For Words – An Interview with Scriptwriter and Producer Tony Leung Hung-Wah
  • How to Murder Your Taxi Driver? – An Interview with Action Director James Ha
  • Falling Down in Hong Kong – An Interview with star Anthony Wong
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Stills Gallery
  • Reversible cover with new artwork by Sean Longmore and original HK Poster Art

Available on Blu-ray August 29th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official 88 Films Taxi Hunter webpage.
To purchase, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group Taxi Hunter webpage.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews

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