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In case you were wondering, there is absolutely no value to “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” beyond pure, simple-minded 90-minutes of adrenaline charged fun. Not that it matters, mind you, as you will either watch or not watch “Tokyo Drift” by your previous reactions to the earlier installments in the franchise. If even the mind-dead “2 Fast 2 Furious” had you packing the theaters (or ran to the video store to grab the DVD rental), then “Tokyo Drift” is already on your viewing schedule. Having said that, if you go into “Tokyo Drift” expecting something beyond what it can offer, you are seriously screwed up.
“Tokyo Drift” makes a minor break from the previous two installments’ plots, introducing High School rebel Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, “Friday Night Lights”), a car nut raised on good ol fashion American muscle cars. After a racing mishap gets Sean in trouble for the umpteenth time, he’s sent overseas to live with his Navy father in Japan . Warned by dad not to go near a car, Sean can’t help himself when he discovers the Japanese car sport of “drifting”, where cars are literally made to glide as they maneuver around corners. Sean’s first race is a disaster, as he totals the loaned car of Yakuza gangster Han (Sung Kang, “Forbidden Warrior”) in a humiliating loss to reigning drift king DK, aka the Drift King (Brian Tee).
And that’s just the beginning of life in strange Tokyo for our plunky Southern boy hero. He’s subsequently forced to work for Han, who has taken a rather strange and unexplainable liking to Sean (we later learn that he seeks a confidant in the transplanted troublemaker, having found none in Tokyo , where he himself is not a native). As Vin Diesel paired up with Paul Walker, so now has Lucas Black and Sung Kang. The rest of the film flies by in a series of amusing episodes, as Han seeks to teach Sean the art of drifting, and Sean blends into the culture of Tokyo ‘s underworld scene. Along for the ride is Odious Comic Relief Twinkie (rapper Bow Wow) and transplanted hottie Nathalie Kelley, who, as it so happens, is the current girlfriend of DK. Do you smell a Big Race on the horizon? Yup, so do I. Although I must admit, I didn’t expect to see Sonny Chiba make an appearance as a Tokyo Godfather.
Directed by Justin Lin (“Annapolis”), “Tokyo Drift” gives the audience that made the last two movies in the franchise such mega hits more of what they want and little else. With the success of this third part in theaters, no doubt a fourth entry is on its way. The genius of the franchise is that, having jettison the undercover cops-and-robbers angle with the absence of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (although the later does make a cameo appearance toward the end of “Tokyo Drift”), the franchise can now simply move the action to a new country or, if they prefer, a new continent. I expect to see “The Fast and the Furious: African Safari” sometime in the future. (Mark my words…)
Written by Chris Morgan, “Tokyo Drift” barely scratches the surface of the art of drifting. The technique doesn’t get close to the dissection that it received in the Hong Kong-made “Initial D”, with much of the film more concerned with conforming to the franchise’s “two guys meet up, become buds in the world of crime, and shit goes down” plot points. As a result, no one is surprised when Han and DK’s partnership erupts in violence, although the reasons for it make little sense. Then again, we are talking about a movie where a white guy who moves to Tokyo and in the span of a few musical montages learns to become the new king of drift racing, so whaddaya want, realism?
Guys in their teens and early ’20s will no doubt get the most out of “Tokyo Drift”, as the film is geared specifically for them. It’s filled with hot cars, hot girls, and hot Japanese girls in schoolgirl uniforms prancing about. To its credit, “Tokyo Drift” makes absolutely no bones about what demographic it’s going after, as all three elements previously mentioned are presented with the sole intention of polluting the wet dreams of boys everywhere. As the third director in as many installments, Lin eschews much of the CGI-heavy racing sequences that John Singleton favored so much in “2 Fast 2 Furious”, and to a degree, Rob Cohen in the original. Which isn’t to say that “Tokyo Drift’s” races are more realistic, although it does seem to make more of an effort to seam “real”.
Does “Tokyo Drift” have script problems? Oh yes, does it ever. I was never sure if Han was Japanese or Chinese (his name, “Han”, would seem to indicate he’s Chinese), or what it was Sean’s dad did at the American military base. Is he some kind of mechanic? MP? Why is he living off base? And for a guy who speaks no Japanese, Sean’s first few days at his new Japanese school sure goes by with relative ease. How does he pick up enough Japanese in the first few months, much less the first few days, to even understand what his Japanese-speaking teachers are saying? And so on and so forth.
But what am I complaining about. “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” is not designed to be thought about at all. It’s made to be thrilling, watched, and (more so here than other movies) go along with for a ride. The cast is competent enough (Black is rather charming and Kelley is great to look at), with no real lowlights among them. Even rapper-turned-actor Bow Wow (having dumped the “Lil” from his moniker) does a credible job. Then again, it’s not as if the film demanded very much of him. Which describes the film perfectly: “Tokyo Drift” is an undemanding movie made for the masses, perfect for Friday nights out with the guys or the girlfriend. To expect more out of it would be supercilious on your part.
Justin Lin (director) / Chris Morgan (screenplay)
CAST: Lucas Black …. Sean Boswell
Nathalie Kelley …. Neela
Bow Wow …. Twinkie
Leonardo Nam …. Morimoto
Jason J. Tobin …. Earl
Keiko Kitagawa …. Reiko
Brian Tee …. Drift King
Sung Kang …. Han
Sonny Chiba …. Kamata