A cab driver strikes an unconventional relationship with a sex worker and yes, that sounds like a premise for a film that’s too familiar. Regardless one of the few silver linings about Hail, Driver! is that it does its best to separate itself from that other film about that lonely occupation. My memories of taxi Driver is that there’s always someone else on the screen. Meanwhile, this newer Malaysian film is a closer character study. For the first half, it follows its protagonist Aman (Amerul Affendi), who’s looking for an apartment. That apartment search is more necessary in this situation because a woman kicked him out of theirs. This means that he only has a laundromat or, presumably, his car to sleep in. The film captures that search in black and white. It adds to the loneliness of someone who is seeing the change of demographics that’s recently happening.
The stakes are high within this first half, but its way of adding levels to its arcs don’t work. There’s even a whole scene where he cleans the apartment he finds, which can only in giving Aman’s character some meat. Anyway, the reason he gets this apartment is through his sex worker friend, Bella (Mei Fen Lim). The film barely gives her screen time during the first half. And the second half ramps up their friendship with montages of him trying to engage her in small talk while she listens. At least some of their later scenes together serve the function to finally give the viewers something to grab on to about these characters. He has a past life as a publisher while she feels alienation as a Chinese-Malaysian. And thankfully, Aman doesn’t go full Travis but the ending that this film chose feels like a whimper.
Buy tickets to Hail, Driver through the Reel Asian website.