a critiQal film review The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Plot: After being sent to live with his father in Tokyo to avoid jail time, racing fanatic Sean (Black) is introduced to Tokyo's high-paced underground world of drift racing - and can't get enough. But how far is this outsider willing to go in a world he barely understands?

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  • ...the first entry in the series, that, while still as mindless as it's predecessors, is at least fun to watch.

After the horrendous catastrophe that was The Fast and the Furious (2001), I’d skipped the second entry in the series, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). So, I was planning on skipping the new film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift…until I saw the previews. The new drift style of racing piqued my interest, and I decided to give the franchise another go. Since the first film was so bad, however, I waited until The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift hit DVD before giving it a shot.

One of the big problems in The Fast and the Furious (2001) was it’s incredibly cheesy dialogue. Apparently, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) didn’t improve that much, as the filmmakers decided to do away with most of the cheesiness the only way they knew how – they moved The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to Japan, thus putting up a language barrier for half of the actors. After all, if half of the actors only speak Japanese in the film, that’s less characters spewing bad dialogue, right? Strangely enough, this works, putting rebel outsider Lucas Black in a strange new environment – a good plot device as it helps the viewer relate more to the character.

With a rather ridiculous beginning (with Lucas Black racing an old Pontiac against “Home Improvement”‘s Zachary Ty Bryan in a Dodge Viper), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift seems to start out in the same vein as the original film – all about fast cars, women, and crazy driving. Once the film moves to Tokyo (albeit on a rather implausible setup), however, that’s where the film starts to take on a life of it’s own. Thrusting it’s main character into the startling differences of Japanese life, Lucas Black seems totally out of his element. Then he meets an Army brat named Twinkie (rapper Bow Wow aka Shad Moss), who – after stunning Lucas with his Incredible Hulk minivan – introduces him to the underground world of drift racing.

As soon as Lucas sees the drift cars, he’s like a kid in a candy store, and he’s at his best during these first moments in this new world. His quick temper immediately puts him in a race with the Drift King, and that first race is easily the best of the film. Not for it’s great moves, but because Lucas has absolutely no idea how to do drift, and ends up trashing the car.

Of course, now he’s hooked, and the rest of the movie is set up. Unfortunately, after the first race in Japan, the film drops away a bit, as Lucas learns how to drift in a very short amount of time, and eventually matches up with the Drift King again. By then, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift has become rather predictable, but the out-of-control feel of drifting helps keep the viewer interested.

While Brian Tee as the Drift King is a rather one-dimensional bad guy, he manages to exude enough evil to make the viewer root for the good guy – despite Lucas Black’s ridiculously southern accent.

Sung Kang shines as Han, a criminal who befriends the main character. Whether he’s nonchalantly popping what look to be M&M’s while Lucas’ character trashes one of his cars, or drifting through a high-speed race, he’s one of the coolest laid-back criminals to grace the screen in a while. He’s the real standout of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and helps keep the viewer interested throughout, despite being really a secondary character.

But the real interest for most viewers are the drift-style racing sequences, which are, as the name of the film implies, fast and furious. Watching these fast cars on the verge of spinning out of control as they zip through traffic or around tight turns on a mountain lane makes the regular high-speed car chases of other films seem rather pedestrian. Some of these car racing sequences have to be seen to be believed, as the cars zip between traffic, or slide through a slim lane between a crowd of people.

While The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift does seem to glorify the criminal element, involving even the dreaded Japanese Yakuza, the drift-racing more than makes of for some of the weaker plot elements of the film. And Sung Kang’s cool-as-ice Han more than makes up for Lucas Black’s rather annoying – and totally out of place – southern accent.

Unfortunately, not all of the scenes help contribute to the film overall – including a ridiculous fight between Bow Wow and Leonardo Nam (who does nothing to contribute to the film at all, and seems to be more of a homage to the horrible acting of the first film).

As for the romance, well, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift apparently uses the budding romance between the main character and the physical eye candy of the film to use of it’s quota of cheesy lines. Probably the best thing that can be said about “eye candy” Nathalie Keeley’s performance is that she was able to say most of her pathetic lines with a straight face. Just as an example of how cheesy this gets: the main turning point of their relationship, where the two of them are finally opening up to each other – this pivotal scene occurs while Nathalie is busy shifting and braking in a high speed drifting slide down a mountain road. Even remembering that sequence is enough to make the viewer wince.

With a decent bad guy, a cool “good” guy, and a semi-likable main character who does his best as a fish-out-of-water, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift already blows past the original in terms of watchability. Toss in the extremely exciting drift-racing element, and this film does a lot to improve the series as a whole…even if the film does drift back into the ways of the original film by the end, putting up muscle cars against the quick drifters of Tokyo – a throwback that seemed ridiculous from the get-go.

Despite it’s flaws, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift is a fun, semi-mindless way to pass the time…and the soundtrack just adds to the fun, with everything from Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” to “There It Go (The Whistle Song)” with it’s catchy whistling track.

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