Universal // 2006 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 23rd, 2006
Speed needs no translation
First there was Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Then it was just Paul Walker. And then came Lucas Black. Do we take measure of a franchise by its stars? If so, The Fast and The Furious movies have been going downhill. Yes, that does imply that there was a peak back in 2001; don't forget, Vin was at the height of his brief popularity. While Vin decided to not go, on the movies did, and here we are for the latest, creating yet another trilogy.
I haven't seen any of the three in the theater; I've enjoyed each in the comfort of my home. The first movie I thought was just acceptable, with a few interesting moments sprinkled throughout. Oddly, my biggest recollection of that movie was that it was so loud and aggressive it gave me a headache. The second movie, which I saw but three months ago, took a different approach and I found it far more exciting and enjoyable than the first, primarily because of the outrageous race scenes. With that fresh in my mind, I was looking forward to Tokyo Drift. How would an interesting franchise fold in "Burnout," one of my favorite console racing games?
Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, Friday Night Lights) is into cars and in trouble. He's now at his third high school, and the quarterback is pissed that some hillbilly has the nerve to talk to his girl. Words and baseballs fly, and soon Sean finds himself racing the jock with the prize being said girl. The race is on and the two pull out all the stops, but at the end of the race they all find themselves at the police station. Sean is now facing jail time, but his mother is able to "convince" the detectives that there is another alternative: deportation. Faster than you can say sushi, Sean lands in Tokyo with his dad, living in exile of his own and soon finds himself immersed in the local racing scene.
But racing in Japan is completely different than racing back home in the States. Because so many people live in Tokyo and the natural geography is so restrictive, racing has evolved to a form called drifting. Here, cars appear to defy the laws of physics, quickly taking turns and gliding around corners and obstacles at amazing angles.
Sean is way out of his league with drifting, but he resolves to learn it and master it. It's just not ego talking, for he's also attracted to a girl who's involved with D.K. (Brian Tee, Fun with Dick and Jane), the current Drift King and nephew of a leading yakuza. As luck would have it, he finds a mentor in Han (Sung Kang, Pearl Harbor) who will guide him through the art of drifting and winning the girl.
"Burnout" is my favorite console racing game, and it was the first place I had heard of drifting. In the game it's easy -- just tap on the break while accelerating and your car will slide around corners. It's quite fun. Outside of this game, I hadn't seen much drifting until I watched The Dukes of Hazzard. In fact, in my review of that movie, I say:
In place of lots of jumping, we are given lots and lots of drifting. I think the creators of this movie played too much "Burnout" on their game console, because the General is rarely driving straight. It seems to be stuck at a permanent 45-degree angle. Actually, it really looks cool, but it isn't a substitute for the jumping.
Drifting does look cool because it absolutely goes against what you expect a car to do. Why is this car sliding across the pavement, going at weird angles? While it's been around for quite some time, it hasn't hit the American mainstream. In that regard, it's new and fresh to us. As a result, it's a joy to watch. It's just fun to see cars do such things, and your attention is hooked. It can get tiresome, but Tokyo Drift's major races don't overkill the drifting, allowing you to want more.
As with 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift is skimpy on the plot, tossing just enough out there to make up an excuse for the real reason of the movie: racing. It works. What also works is the different feel to the movie. It's not just that we have drifting, but there's a harder edge to the movie this time around -- compared to its immediate predecessor. Look at the first with cars ramming into each other, through things, and spectacularly crashing. You could almost feel the need of each driver to win the race. Skip to Tokyo and though the cars look like toys, that underlying rawness to live on the edge and survive another day carries on. The over-the-top silliness of the second movie gives way to a tighter, more focused movie. (Though I will say I miss the camera shakes of the passing cars.)
Is that enough to want to spend good money to see this film? Depends on how much you like racing. It's a simple film with a simple idea, and the racing holds it all together. Let's look beyond that and see what the people bring to the film starting with the director, Justin Lin. I'd never heard of Lin prior to this DVD, but maybe you've had a chance to catch his big American flop Annapolis. I missed that one, so all I can tell you is that he capably handles the challenges of this film. He keeps Tokyo Drift going at a brisk pace, and he does have a style that keeps it from feeling stale or boring. With the actors, surprisingly it's quite international. Our leading man Sean is a good old boy from the South, the leading lady is Australian (actually Peruvian, but she does have an Aussie accent), and while just about everyone else is Japanese (presumably, since I am not adept at distinguishing Asian nationalities), a few have decidedly British accents. Okay, maybe it isn't all that international after all. There isn't a standout performance in the lot, but I will say that Lucas Black's southern charm does add an amusing juxtaposition to the mix.
Maybe you're more interested in the technical specs of the DVD? If so, you'll be happy to learn that I didn't find the slightest error in either transfer. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is excellent, capturing the diverse environments with ease, whether it's the neon overkill of the city or the dark, foggy contours of the country. You'll see that colors and blacks are rich and accurate and detail is exceptional. With the audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 works across all facets of the movie from the quiet dialogue scenes to the robust racing moments. As aggressive as these are, I think I actually would have liked a bit more thrust and zoom during the races, causing my walls to vibrate just a little bit more.
The single-disc does come with a small assortment of bonus materials. First up is a commentary track by Lin. I found it an engaging and informative talk, revealing many interesting details about the people and the film. Next are eleven deleted scenes (19 minutes) with optional commentary by Lin. These were all cut to maintain the pace of the movie, but I found some of these moments helped make better connections to other scenes throughout the movie. Next is an assortment of featurettes, all easily discerned from their titles: "Drifting School" (7.25 minutes), "Cast Cam" (4.25 minutes), "The Big Breakdown: Han's Last Ride" (8 minutes), "Tricked Out to Drift" (10.75 minutes), "The Real Drift King" (3.5 minutes), and "The Japanese Way" (9.75 minutes). Lastly is the music video for Don Omar's "Conteo," which isn't presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. With that said, I want to mention that I enjoyed the movie's soundtrack.
I'm supposed to be excited about young men and their over-amped toy cars racing in a parking garage? So what if they can "drift" around the curving ramps. It's all just a bit of silly trickery. To make a movie of such a thing just shows how far we've fallen. Automobile races that we crave to see are in the vein of the greats like Grand Prix, Bullitt, and Ronin. Watching these kids slide around corners, releasing nitrous into their engines is a sad substitute.
Racing movies have definitely changed along with everything else over the years. The burly American muscle cars have been replaced by shiny little imports customized beyond your wild imagination. That's exceptionally obvious in Tokyo Drift, for nowhere else will you find such slavish excess when it comes to customizing cars and racing. Whether it's good or bad is another debate, but in this context we can at least give the franchise credit for giving us some variations on the theme across the movies. With that, each movie has its strengths and weaknesses, and Tokyo Drift is a slick, fast-paced, entertaining movie that easily entertains. I readily recommend this one for a fluffy evening rental (contrary to the "rawness" I attest to earlier), but only true fans of the franchise will be interested in owning this one.
The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift is hereby found not guilty of breaking the laws of physics.
Review content copyright © 2006 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary by Director Justin Lin
* Deleted Scenes
* "Drifting School"
* Cast Cam
* "The Big Breakdown: Han's Last Ride"
* "Tricked Out to Drift"
* "The Real Drift King"
* "The Japanese Way"
* Don Omar "Conteo" Music Video
* Official Site