|The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Starring: Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Brian Tee, Sung Kang, Nathalie Kelly, Sonny Chiba
Director: Justin Lin
In the summer of 2001, “The Fast & the Furious” raced into theaters with incredibly low expectations. The cast was young, the story was dumb, and the film’s B-movie production values weren’t very appealing. Of course, it knocked the socks off of anybody who saw it, making stars out of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, and catapulting the movie into guilty pleasure cult status. Two years later, a sequel was born, and while this particular installment wasn’t nearly as charming as its predecessor, it still proved to be an entertaining summer thrill ride filled with fast women and even faster cars. This trend continues with “Tokyo Drift,” the third installment of the racing franchise, and while it can probably be considered the weakest in the series, the film is still great popcorn fun sure to pull in the young crowds from the summer heat.
Jumping behind the wheel to recharge the popular series is Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, a reckless teenager whose rebellious tendencies have finally caught up with him. After wrecking a housing development during a my-engine-is-bigger-than-your-engine drag race, Sean is sent to Tokyo to live with his NAVY-obsessed father (Brian Goodman) in order to avoid punishment. It’s there that he’s really singled out as an outsider (or gaijin), but after being introduced to the underground world of drift racing by fellow Army brat, Twinkie (Bow Wow), Sean quickly immerses himself into the culture. Of course, the skillful driving method isn’t the only thing that wins over the suave Alabaman’s attention, and after flirting with Eurasian beauty Neela (Nathalie Kelley), Sean finds himself the enemy of her gangster boyfriend, DK (Brian Tee).
Black, who was easily one of the best things about last year’s “Jarhead,” does his best Paul Walker impression as the pretty-boy American talent, but the real soul of the film belongs to Sung Kang as Han, Sean’s financial backer and drifting coach. Han is the most intriguing character in the story, and arguably, the only one you really care about. The rest of the cast is an absolute joke, especially Bow Wow as a black market entrepreneur who drives an ugly-as-hell Incredible Hulk-themed milk truck (Scion xB), but Sonny Chiba’s late entry as the Yakuza uncle of DK delivers a much-needed breath of fresh air.
“Tokyo Drift” can be incredibly loud and dizzying at times, and the race scenes aren’t nearly as commanding as in past installments, but it’s hard to deny the lyrical, and sometimes ballet-like, style of drifting. It’s obvious from the get go that this is a method that can take years to learn, let alone master, and while the first two films focused mostly on the NOS-stimulated speed of the cars, “Tokyo Drift” is all about the art of driving. Still, for fans of the sport (and yes, it is a sport), the film simply doesn’t do it justice. Go rent “Initial D,” the Hong Kong adaptation of the popular Japanese manga, if you want to see real drifting action. Then again, that racing film doesn’t have a cameo by a certain “The Fast & the Furious” alumni. And no, I’m not going to tell you who it is.
I was relieved to discover that Universal didn’t go soft on the special features for the “Tokyo Drift” DVD. This is one film that could use some behind-the-scenes explanation and the studio offers plenty to choose from, including an audio commentary with director Justin Lin and several production featurettes that range from teaching the actors to drift (“Drifting School”), the filming of the biggest race sequence (“The Big Breakdown”), and the production of the cars themselves (“Tricked Out to Drift”). Also included on the single-disc release are eleven deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a short profile and Keiichi Tsuchiya (“The Real Drift King”) and a look at Japanese culture (“The Japanese Way”). None of the features run longer than ten minutes, but they all provide an interesting look at the making-of of a film.