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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

This third picture in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS trilogy saga is pretty different and at first doesn’t even seem to be connected to the other ones. I never saw Academy Award nominee for best director John Singleton’s 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, but I know Paul Walker returned and Vin Diesel didn’t. And I believe Tyrese showed up. This time around we lose everybody and start over with a new character played by Lucas Black (the kid from SLING BLADE who I last saw in a small role in JARHEAD).

The first section of the movie, which is also the best section, is all about Lucas Black getting into macho confrontations with dudes and then having a race. In the opening he’s leaving school, getting into his junker car when he exchanges words with a rich asshole jock dickhead (HOME IMPROVEMENT’s Zachary Ty Bryan, still wearing a letterman’s jacket at 24). You can already tell this is gonna be a worthwhile movie when it starts playing western style music and showing closeups of their faces as they stare each other down. They’re about to get in a wrench fight when the jock’s girlfriend suggests a peaceful solution: a fast and/or furious race. Lucas Black says, “I only race for pink slips,” (he doesn’t mention whether or not he lives life a quarter mile at a time) but since the HOME IMPROVEMENT guy’s Viper is worth $80,000, the bet is not agreed upon. So the girlfriend suggests herself as the prize. So you know the western music was not lying about this movie being awesome.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftNow, maybe it’s the girl who uses her bra as a starting flag, or maybe it’s Lucas Black’s strategic decision to crash through an unfinished house as a shortcut, or maybe it’s the girlfriend turning to her boy and saying, “I thought you loved me!” when they start to lose and then the boyfriend pulling that one lever they have in cars that makes them go faster that you only think of using late in the race. It could be alot of things but something about this scene is even better than the rest of the movie. At the end of the race both cars are destroyed and all three drivers and passengers are bloody. Black smiles with bloody teeth and winks at the girl he has supposedly won in the race. What a charmer.

But it turns out this guy is a troublemaker and this is his third strike so to avoid going to jail his mom sends him to his Navy dad, who lives in Tokyo. He crashes in dad’s shitty little apartment, and the next day has to go to a Japanese school where he meets another American, Twinkie, played by regular sized Bow Wow (ROLL BOUNCE). Twinkie (who drives a weird green car with three-dimensional Incredible Hulk fists coming out of the sides) introduces him to the world of underground “drift racing,” which means you skid around sideways alot. And again he gets into a macho confrontation with a dude (this time a weird looking wannabe Yakuza with a flat nose named Drift King). A stranger lends him a fancy car and there is another race. And you realize wow, so far all that has happened in this movie is this guy has gone to one day of school on two different continents and both days led to a car race to prove his manhood.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the movie he is able to leave the house without getting in a race, but it’s still pretty good stuff. Han, the guy who loaned him the car, is pissed because it turned out he had no idea what drifting was and scraped the car all up and down every cement surface available, completely destroying it. So he ends up doing some jobs for Han and they become buddies sort of like undercover cop Paul Walker did with street racer/armed robber Vin Diesel in the first movie. Only one never has to betray the other. He has to learn how to drift through a variety of training montages and what not. (He doesn’t seem to ever have any problem adjusting to driving on the other side of the car and the street.)

The racing scenes are pretty cool. You can’t always follow what’s going on but they’re much less artificial than the races in the first movie. This is because it’s mostly real. There were two obvious digital shots but both were pretty cool, one was an overhead shot of “drifting” through hundreds of pedestrians in downtown Tokyo and the other was a fancy digital camera move over cliffs during a big race. Well, you had to be there.

But as important as the racing is the Tokyo setting. We Americans are suckers for all that Japanese shit, and they get alot of it in there. They got rotating garages, those little bunker apartments, pachinko parlors, Japanese retro garage rock, Japanese cowgirls, Yakuza pop star dudes with fancy hair and suits, etc. Pretty much everything but karate. But instead of karate they have Sonny Chiba himself in three or four scenes as the bad guy’s Yakuza uncle. His way of karate has no end.

There’s this new trend in movie advertising called Lambading. It’s where they try to shove some fake trend down your throat and pretend that everybody is excited about it. For example the ads for DISTRICT B-13 (the American release of that old movie the rest of the world calls BANLIEUE 13) have three critical acclaim quotes that casually drop the word “parkour.” The idea is that you’re supposed to go, “Parkour? What’s parkour? How come this critic says it and doesn’t explain what it means? And this one too. Oh shit, everybody else knows what it means and I never heard of the god damn thing. Now I have to see this movie so I’ll know what it is otherwise people will find out I don’t know and nobody will think I’m cool anymore.”

TOKYO DRIFT takes kind of the opposite approach, they pretend that “drifting” is a huge phenomenon but instead of dropping it casually they have a definition, history and glossary on the back of their promotional posters. If you read my 3,901 word review of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS you probaly don’t remember this, but I pointed out that drag races are not at all cinematic because they just go in a straight line and it’s boring. I don’t want to brag but let’s admit it, my review was the inspiration for this movie and for the entire fictional sport of “drifting.” So Vern doesn’t want it in a straight line? they asked. Then we’ll have ’em drive sideways and spin around in circles and shit. Also they drive on curvy roads and on parking garage ramps and various twisty things. My point is, this type of racing is a little more interesting to watch than the old “zoom down a street and pull the nitrous thing to go faster” shit.

In fact the filmatists are so confident that dipshits in the audience will be excited about “drifting” that when the movie ends the agressive techno comes on but instead of the credits right away you get a long disclaimer about how the driving in the movie was performed on closed tracks by professionals and if and when you dumb little rich brats kill yourselves trying to do it at home it will be your own god damn fault and not Hollywood’s. I think JACKASS has something like this but this is the only non-documentary I know of with that kind of disclaimer.

To me though it wasn’t the racing that made the first FAST AND THE FURIOUS watchable, it was Vin Diesel. In this movie there is no replacement for Vin Diesel’s macho charisma. The character Han sort of takes his place in the story, because he’s a good guy criminal. Late in the movie we even find out that he knows Vin Diesel’s character and they’re “like family.” (Remember, at the end of part 1 Vin drove off into the sunset to have racing adventures all over the world.) But whether you like Vin Diesel or not, Han is no replacement for him. I can’t make excuses, the guy sounds like a dork. He’s a likable enough character but his squeaky voice is the opposite of Vin’s.

But I happen to think Lucas Black makes a great anti-hero. My bud Laremy will disagree, he said on his podcast that Black is “horrible” in the movie, but he’s wrong. Black is cool because he doesn’t seem to have an ounce of Hollywood bullshit in him. In fact, this is his first Hollywood bullshit movie after doing little independent movies since he was a kid. I don’t know how he got the lead in this movie without having to hide his Alabama accent, but when have you seen that before? It seems like Mathew McConaghey’s about the only guy with a real accent. It’s like from a distance they thought Lucas Black was another buff pretty boy like Paul Walker and he was already signed on before they got close enough to realize he had a little Warren Oates in him.

Black’s character Sean is an age old movie tough guy type. A guy who delights in causing trouble, but has a deep sense of honor. And also is incredibly stubborn. He never backs down from a fight or a challenge, and in fact always backs into them. Nothing scares him. It’s not just that he’s doing these dangerous races and that he’s messing with the Yakuza and stealing their women, and that when the shit gets really bad he decides to go find Sonny Chiba and talk to him man-to-man to straighten things out. He’s the same way with less life threatening challenges. How many dudes from Alabama would just walk into a Japanese school, not knowing the language, and try to go to class without complaining? It doesn’t matter how many times you see these type of characters, they’re always fun to watch if the challenges they face are amusing enough. And involve race cars.

So the first half is definitely better than the second, and I’m not saying I didn’t get bored at times. But TOKYO DRIFT is a fun, ridiculous movie. Not as asinine as the original, but in many ways more entertaining.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 27th, 2006 at 10:11 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”

  1. So far this was the worst of the F & F movie IMO. I totally agree that the beginning promises a much better movie. Maybe its main fault was that they completely sucked the fun out of it and tried to make a “serious” drama about responsibility, friendship, honor and drifting.
    Useless trivia: I remember that one day in 2005, when I was at work and saw on TV a a short report about drifting. It was the first time I saw it and thought it looked damn cool. A few hours later I read on AICN the announcement that they make a 3rd Fast & Furious that will take place in Tokyo and feature something called drifting.

  2. Obviously late in posting comment but having just got through a “Fast and Furious” marathon this weekend, the first thing I did was check your reviews. Unbelievably you appreciate the movies and have pretty much the same opinion as me. I’m actually one of the small minority of Paul Walker fans, so that helps but like you say, Vin is set up for the franchise.
    But we are here on the Drift review and for a sequal which has nothing to do with the others (bar the cameo) it’s actually one of the best in the series! The Tokyo setting, the wierd but correct choice of lead, the cars are very prominent and it is very well directed. And Sonny Chiba. With the marathon I watched the Fast and Furious which initialy in the theatre I thought wasn’t that great. After this weekend I found new love for it and came to the conclusion it was more a character piece than a car piece. The racing was better than I remembered and I loved your comparison to Temple of Doom.
    Anyway, having got excited I just youtubed the trailer for Furious 5 which looks awesome and is set in Brazil. Tyresse and Luda are bck for one final job and the chemistry looks set between Walker and Diesel once more. And boy I’m I excited!
    My only headscratcher is the time line between Vin and Hans friendship. In the 4rth they refer to a move to Tokyo in future tense, but yet in Drift, the refrence is they have knowing each other for years. Yes, Drift doesn’t need to be a chronoligical movie but with all Vins troubles and travelling I wonder if they have fucked up his timeline. Granted I’m a few beers in and maybe it will all make sense tomorrow. Or in part 5.
    Anyway Vern, thanks for your thumbs up of these films and the one review that was rather more a rant than anything else. Oh and Seagal has just released another DVD in the UK on top of the one you just reviewed. Us lucky brits eh?!

  3. Just rewatched trailer for Furious 5 and Han is in the film! So, it would appear that Tokyo Drift is set after all the others. Unless he survived the blown up car…..

  4. this movie won me over immediately with the intro- the mos def mix of dj shadow’s walkie talkie/six days seemed just right for hollywood kids going through metal detectors on their way to crash expensive cars.

    i wish they’d explain lil bowow’s obsession with the hulk. i mean, you gotta really like the hulk in order to commit to driving that thing everywhere everyday for the next decade or however long it takes to pay it off. cause the kid dropped a lot of fucking money on his little van. how many michael jordan shoes did he have to sell to pay for it? also, is 3D hulk hands on cars a real technology or did they just make that up for the movie (like sexy underground drifting clubs)? and it was a little dissapointing to me when he made his “han would have wanted you to have this” speech and then just pulled out some money. it seemed like it was going to be something cool like a golden steering wheel or some special nitrous or maybe a little rc car for good luck or something. but no, just cash.

    so was drifting invented in japan? probably, cause you can drift in the mariokart wii now. i guess it makes sense to the problem of having tricked-out cars but only a parking garage to race in. its basically a logical reaction to the environment, just the same as the in the first fast and furious where they drive in a straight line cause its america and we got shit tons of open land. the drifting is pretty cool in some parts- like when they’re driving around cars on a busy road- but sometimes its pretty ridiculous cause they are just making a turn and you feel like the filmmakers are trying to shove it down your throat and force you to think its awesome, when really all that is happening is someone is destroying their brakes and tires to drive up a corkscrew ramp at a moderately fast pace. reminds me of the mystery science theater 3000’s version of joe don baker’s Mitchell where he is driving onto a highway and the camera keeps frantically cutting from his car merging into the right lane to him shifting to 5th over and over (how many times can you shift to 5th anyway? this happens in like every car chase. unless someone has a BMW.) while the robot audience cheer “MERGE! MERGE”! anyway. guess you gotta milk every moment.

    also, the “i thought you loved me!” moment was some funny shit.

    great review vern.

  5. You can thank this movie for getting RIDDICK produced.

    Basically as Twohy recently revealed, Universal didn’t want to make another Riddick movie after CHRONICLES tanked. Diesel asked for the film rights back, they refused. Then TOKYO DRIFT comes along and Universal wants him to do that cameo. Diesel agrees on the condition that he isn’t paid, but he gets the rights back. So with the rights back, Twohy and him basically make an independent movie ($38 million) and shop it around, ironically enough Universal are the ones who buy it for the U.S. release.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/david-twohy-riddick_n_3860636.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment

  6. So Lucas Black is in that new show NCIS: New Orleans. I come home from work and my dad is like “hey who is his guy? He was in a fast and furious movie right?” It only took 1 southern-laced word to come out of Black’s mouth before I go “Tokyo Drift”

    He has an aha moment and so do I because I haven’t seen him in anything else since Tokyo Drift. I watched the rest of the show because I guess I’m a Lucas Black fan. He’s good.

  7. Revisited this one for the first time since the sequels, and even though there’s alot I like about it, it’s still kind of weak. As Vern said, after the excellent setup and first half it gets weirdly tedious and boring. I mean, I never thought I’d actually NOT want to see another training montage but this has one too many and my brain had checked out long before then. The idea is good, Black is charismatic and a likable character, and the end cameo is great. This would actually be a pretty good movie if the plot wasn’t so repetitive and they took maybe 15 minutes off the runtime (this is a LONG 104 minutes by the way, it really felt well over 2 hrs).

    Notes: Despite being boring, this might possibly have the most vehicular action in the entire series. The 4 or so race/chase scenes go ON AND ON AND ON which I wouldn’t mind but you rarely get a clear sense of what the hell’s happening; it’s about as exciting and coherent as watching two people you don’t know play a videogame. I mean, when you have to loop a verse in twice from a Kid Rock song to make it long enough to fit your chase scene, then your chase scene is too long. Also, the opening credits slow-motion high school montage/music video is arty and awesome and not like anything else in the series – it really sets the tone and has some strong world-building…and then you never see the high school again! Anyways, it also makes more sense now that Han would give his car to a total stranger and let him wreck it – he’s a multi-millionaire from the heist from Fast Five, he probably has 20 of those cars in storage.

  8. After watching Furious 7, I went back and saw 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drive, because I had skipped over those two. And I was surprised to find that I much preferred 2 Fast 2 Furious. Tokyo Drift has built up a good reputation over the years, but I think it’s my least favorite of the series. I could not get past the fact that the main character was in Japan, didn’t speak the language, and was still in high school. Usually I can easily suspend disbelief, but you have to throw me a bone, people. I’m not just going to accept any ridiculous premise that you lazily serve up. I did like several of the chases, but I was less impressed with the various characters. 2 Furious is treated like the red headed step child of the series, and I found myself really getting into it.

  9. TOKYO DRIFT is the HALLOWEEN III of the series: underrated for so long that it eventually became overrated. The sequels have infused it with some retroactive gravitas, and I like Lucas Black and Han, of course, but the whole yakuza plot is a real snoozer. More importantly, you just can’t convince me that drifting is cool, so most of the race scenes don’t do much for me. I respect the movie’s place in the series but don’t really care for it on its own.

  10. A few weeks ago I had a re-watch of the series (plus a first watch of part 7) and honestly, I still don’t like the first three that much and think that TOKYO DRIFT is the worst of the bunch. (Although the best directed of the first three.)

    BTW, is it weird that I would like to see a F&F Spin-off, where all characters who never returned have their own adventure? Like Ted Levine (part 1) and Thom Barry (1 & 2) have to fight Cole Hauser (part 2) and they recruit Devon Aoki (part 2), who teams up with Zachery Ty Brian (part 3) for any reason and at one point Leo and Santos (parts 4 & 5) join them. Also Eva Mendes (2 & 5).

  11. 2 FAST AND 2 FURIOUS is easily the worst. I read Vern´s review prior to watching it and went in expecting some real goofy shit to laugh at. But there was none. It was just depressingly bland.

  12. Was Eva Mendes actually in FAST FIVE? I don´t remember that.

  13. Only as a cameo in the end credits. She apparently works in the same office as Hobbs.

  14. TOKYO DRIFT appeals to the weebaoo in me, I admit it.

    But seriously, it blows my mind that there was a time when a big Hollywood blockbuster could be set in Tokyo and the fact that time has probably already passed is a real bummer.

  15. I’m holding out hope the 2014 GODZILLA sequel will be set in Tokyo though.

  16. I didn’t like this series until this one which I saw by accident but enjoyed well enough especially since I had 0 expectations going in. I mean I enjoyed 2 FAST on video with my friends but for all the wrong reasons. We were mocking it 90% of the time. This one though actually felt like a lost but legit 80’s or 90’s sports comedy movie (think MIGHTY DUCKS or SKI SCHOOL) just with cars and outside of America and I thought it was an interesting conceit for an entry in this franchise. I do agree that drifting doesn’t seem very cool though but there is enough quirk and charm that it could stand ground on the sports movie genre tropes alone. I also doubt that they would ever experiment with any future entry in this series which makes it even more special.

  17. I liked F&F 2, 5 and 6 better than 1, 3 and 4. Although in my current mood I’m a bit afraid of even revisiting #2 in case it looks as retroactively bad as THE ONE and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 did upon revisiting them.

    Man, I’m in a bad frame of mind to be rewatching old movies at the moment. Especially after the double shitstorm-to-the-face of WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005, I don’t want to say anything against the fifties version, I grew up with that one and from what I can remember it’s pretty great) and SUDDEN IMPACT. On the plus side, there are still movies like INSIDE OUT and COHERENCE to remind me that occasionally you can come across a really good movie that takes you by surprise. I’m just not coming across too many of these right now.

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