A Nutshell Review: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
28 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Fast and the Furious franchise relies on the simpleness of 2 factors to attract an audience from boys to men - sexy cars and fast babelicious chicks, topped up with plenty of testosterone and adrenaline in overdrive. Racing cars of all makes, be they the European, American or Asian models, one thing's for sure, the stunt driving team deserves all the credit. The first movie made a huge star out of Vin Diesel, while the rest had relatively smaller shots at glory, from Paul Walker, who returned for the second, to babes like Eva Mendes, Michelle Rodriguez and Devon Aoki.

The third installment decided to insert refreshing elements, and set itself in the land of the rising sun. Presumably influenced by the driving technique called drifting, which made it to mainstream consciousness via the Japanese manga Initial D, it's just too bad that the Hong Kong movie by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, adapted from the manga, got to it first, like almost a year ago. Perhaps if the latest shenanigans of racers from both sides of the Causeway were widely publicized, this film could even be made closer to home! (In case you're wondering, the Malaysian police had recently conducted a dragnet rounding up illegal racers on its North South Highway. Flashy cars with raunchy stakes - the winner gets to take home the loser's chick for a night's worth of lurve)

There will be no doubts, comparisons between the East's Initial D, and this one from the West. In my opinion, this one edged out Initial D. There are many aspects in which Tokyo Drift is superior, and naturally having a bigger budget means that the filmmakers can afford to put more cars on showcase, more cars involved in races, and more races in varied locations like a tight car park, on the streets of Tokyo, and as a homage too to the source, they couldn't miss the mountain range. Scenes were for both day and night, unlike Initial D's predominantly night scenes.

It's never about the acting, though Tokyo Drift will lose out in terms of having relative rookies helm the show throughout, unlike Initial D's stellar supporting cast of Chapman To, Anthony Wong, to established popular teeny-boppers like Edison Chen and Shawn Yue. But Tokyo Drift did have veterans like Sonny Chiba lend a hand, and the coup was the casting of Keiichi Tsuchiya, the original inspiration for the manga, in a cameo.

Taking over the lead role from Paul Walker and Vin Diesel is relative newcomer Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, a good for nothing troublemaker with the inborn need to speed. He comes from a broken home, and is the root cause of his and his mom's moving from city to city, because he cannot get out of trouble from the law. When the final straw broke the camel's back, he gets sent reluctantly to live with his father in Tokyo.

Thinking that the Asian city has nothing to offer, before you can say "drift", he finds himself drawn into the world of underground racing, with plenty of flashy cars, hot chicks and mean Yakuza-linked punks itching to challenge anyone to a race. As clichés rule over this movie, Sean falls for the Drift King's (Brian Tee) main squeeze Neela (Nathalie Kelly, thought she looked like a cross between Paula Abdul and Rosario Dawson), while unwittingly got brought under the wings of Han (Sung Kang), business partner of Drift King, who teaches him the true meaning and purpose of drifting (which is a no-brainer purpose of snagging hot chicks).

Anyway, to a gaijin, Sean is ignorance personified, from culture to racing, he takes these challenges head on, stupidly. And surprise! A movie like this offered some one-dimensional character development of troublemaker turned good, who learns the meaning of brotherhood, although fame did get into the way of course. But herein lies another strength against Initial D, the lead did not turn out to be "all powerful" - here he has to learn the basics of drifting in an incredible short period of time, and turn out well of course, at the expense of expensive tyres, and cars (always a pain to see them being wrecked).

Any racer worth his salt must pimp his ride or zhng his car, and this one offered no less. The star attraction in the franchise are the vehicles. From the Nissans to the Mustangs, it seemed that the Mitsubishi Evo will be a mainstay, and the hero always drives one. It's almost a no- brainer to film movies like these, having stunt drivers to do the actual stunt driving, then cut to actors looking as if they're driving, and insert multiple cuts of hands on steering, foot on pedal, looking mean, etc. Instead of just incessantly focusing on drifting, there are the standard zig-zagging car chases, and some usage of Nitro for that quick boost of horsepower, which the first two movies frequently used.

Given its ending by an uncredited cameo which will send fanboys of this franchise into highs, this movie still has potential to be relatively popular and the franchise can indeed continue. It wouldn't be far out if there's an announcement of The Fast and the Furious: North-South Highway, and yes, you heard it here first! So race away, and unabashedly indulge in this movie that makes no apologies for being fast and furious to the loud sounds of its contemporary soundtrack!
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