12 April 2017

The Fast and the Furious - Tokyo Drift: Not the Death Blow

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift opened in 2006, three years after 2 Fast 2 Furious.  It opened weaker than the first two films, and finished with a domestic take putting it a distant third.  As I sat to watch this one for the second time, I remembered how I felt about the movie after my first viewing so I was not that motivated to watch this one again, but I put it in the DVD player anyway, and away I went.

Tokyo Drift opens with a ridiculous car race through a housing development that is under construction.  The racers are Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) and Clay (Zachery Ty Bryan).  Why are they racing?  In typical Fast and Furious fashion, they are racing over a girl.  Because this is the last straw for Sean’s mom, he is sent to Tokyo to live with his father, who is stationed there with the Navy.

So, on his first day of school, Sean runs into Twinkie (Bow Wow), and they become friends because Twinkie has a tricked out car.  Sean also meets Neela (Nathalie Kelley).  She is gorgeous, and Sean is instantly infatuated with her.  That night, Twinkie takes Sean to a parking garage where they drift race.  In brief, the cars are lighter and are fitted with special tires that allow them to slide or drift around corners.

In typical Fast and Furious fashion, our hotshot hero challenges a character known only as DK, which does not stand for Donkey Kong, but Drift King.  Why does he challenge him?  DK is the boyfriend of Neela.  There is just one problem; Sean doesn’t have a car.  Make that two, he doesn’t know how to drift race.  Han (Sung Kang) gives him the keys to his car because he wants to see what he can do.  Well, Sean loses.  But, unlike the previous entries in the franchise, the cops don’t come.

Now, Sean works for Han to pay for the damaged car, just like Brian worked for Dom to pay for the repairs to the Supra.  Han pays DK money for something illegal I guess because DK’s uncle is in the Yakuza.  It is money to operate on his turf.  Tensions build between Han and DK and come to head when it is discovered that Han has been skimming money from the mafia.

Along the way, Sean is taught how to drift by Han and his crew.  An interesting fact:  the guy who is considered the father of drifting has a cameo as one of the fishermen during Sean’s lessons.  Sean finally gets a chance to redeem himself and demonstrate his drifting skills against Morimoto, DK’s right hand man.  Sean wins.  Again, no cops come.

Leading up to the inevitable final race between DK and Sean, Han is killed in a massive street chase, not race.  In an act of avenging a friend, and acting macho for Neela who now wants to be with Sean, Sean goes straight to the Yakuza uncle and challenges DK to a race.   The loser leaves the turf.  Back at Sean’s dad’s place, Han’s crew puts his dad’s Mustang back together and turns it into a drifting car.  The final race takes place at night down a steep curving mountain, a mountain that only DK has made it down.  In short, Sean wins and gets the girl.  In the aftermath, Sean is the new DK, and is challenged by someone who says Han was family.  This unnamed driver is Dom (Vin Diesel) who appears in a quick cameo.

As I look back at Tokyo Drift, I am shocked by how much less I hated it this time.  It wasn’t as atrocious as I thought it would be.  The story line had the same elements as the first two films, with the exception of no undercover cop.   They had the tricked out cars, the warring gangs, the hero working off debt, the racing for the hot girl, and a rapper in an insignificant role.  What didn’t work? The whole fish out of water story line they tried with Sean in Tokyo went over like a lead balloon.  It just felt forced.  This is the only movie in the franchise without Paul Walker. But don’t fret; Lucas Black filled the bad acting void.

Oddly enough, Justin Lin directed this movie.  This is the least successful film of the franchise but somehow Lin kept the reigns for not only the fourth, but also the fifth and sixth film.   What he did well in Tokyo Drift was the racing was real.  There weren’t any CGI cars.  Instead, real stunt drivers drifted real cars.  I find this odd because the thing I remember most about Fast & Furious, the fourth film, is that it was all CGI.  Another quick note: in the chronology of the franchise, the events of this film take place after six and before seven.  Lastly, Han is the only character from this movie to make it into another film, aside from Sean's quick, almost pointless cameo, in Furious 7.  This non-Paul Walker, non-Vin Diesel experiment was an utter failure.

Rating: 7/10

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