The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift focuses on Sean (Lucas Black), a high school delinquent with a love for street racing sent to live with his father in Tokyo to avoid a heavy jail sentence. While trying to adjust to life in Japan, Sean becomes engulfed in the dangerous mafia run world of drifting, an underground driving style that takes street racing to an entirely new level. The end result is…. wait for it…. driftacular!!! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it. You can unfriend me now.)
In all seriousness though, Tokyo Drift aims to sell you on its stars. You know, 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, 1967 Ford Mustang, 2000 Nissan Silvia S15, 2006 Mazda RX-8, and 2006 Nissan 350Z. What, did you think I meant Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Sung Kang, and random hot actress? No, no. See what the producers of this third installment – in their failed attempt (at least at this point) to turn The Fast and the Furious into a franchise – are trying to do here is lure audiences in on yet another new story about car crime in another new setting with new characters. The only familiar elements are flashy autos, high stakes races, and gorgeous women walking up and down like runway models.
If that’s all it takes to slap on the Fast & Furious name, then we should probably be prepared for potential sequels like The Fast and the Furious: London Traffic Jam, or The Fast and the Furious: Autobahn Speed (of course, we all now know this isn’t the direction the franchise went in). Surprisingly however, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is not only a vast improvement over 2 Fast 2 Furious, it’s better than the original film. The characters are younger (teenagers as opposed to late twenties) and given relatable personalities. The plot takes some risky and pleasantly unexpected twists. Even more surprising is how the film’s capturing of Japanese culture gives it a lot more visual depth than a B-grade action movie about street racing deserves.
Lucas Black has a long way to go if he wants an Oscar nomination, but he’s more than adequate as loner protagonist Sean Boswell, who frequently goes from teenage angst to mature compassion. His supporting cast members, however, are able to outshine him without much effort. Bow Wow’s presence is always welcome as the well connected man who can get you whatever you need. Nathalie Kelley, who plays Neela, Sean’s romantic interest, is charming, soft spoken, and sexy; her only downfall is that she seemingly flips between three to four different accents throughout the movie, making some of her delivery inconsistent and unintentionally funny. Brian Tee and Sung Kang, who play villain D.K. and tragic hero Han respectively, seem to be the more experienced actors in the cast. Tee is intimidating as the spoiled, bratty nephew of a Yakuza boss, and Kang plays Han as an endearing man with a thousand secrets. Adequate acting that is on par with the original’s cast of bigger names.
A lot of this should be credited to Tokyo Drift’s excellent director. Justin Lin’s debut film, Better Luck Tomorrow, was a brilliant societal critique about a group of Asians who learn to exploit capitalist America for their own benefit by embodying the stereotypes of their culture. With Tokyo Drift, Lin gives the background as much character as he does his actors. His camera adopts an observational shooting style. He chooses scenery and frames his shots around what is going on in the background. That’s not to detract from the main focus of the film – action and drama – but he frequently mirrors the narrative drama with insightful depictions of Tokyo lifestyle. He gives the audience the impression that Tokyo’s inhabitants are secretive and often in search of something better, much like many of the characters in the film who are from other ethnic backgrounds yet living in a foreign country. This also reflects Sean’s struggles to grow up and come to terms with who he really is. Take for instance a scene where Han and Boswell are talking on a balcony overlooking Tokyo Centre. Han’s advice to his friend about fear as he looks down at the thousands of people passing by below him reveal a man who has suffered great loss; while Tokyo is his home now, it is clear that he is running away from some dark memories.
Tokyo Drift is the best of the three Fast and Furious films thus far. It takes more risks than its predecessors, adds more depth to its narrative, and makes its characters extremely empathetic. Every angle in the racing sequences is framed so the audience can see exactly what the car is doing and how it is able to pull off seemingly impossible stunts. Chris Morgan, the new screenwriter, seems to have written the dialogue with a lot more subtext than you would initially pick up on. For a movie about cars and hijackings, Tokyo Drift is thoughtful, observant of cultures different from our North American one, and above all, really exciting.