Lucas Black is a 24-year-old high school ne’er-do-well who gets super-expelled to Japan after racing a jock with a convertible. Once in his new digs he meets 19-year-old high school student Li’l Bow Wow. Together, with the help of Han (Sung Kang), they face off against 29-year-old high school student Takashi, a local yakuza lord, who is such a super amazing racer that he is known as DK, or Drift King. It’s sort of about growing up.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was a franchise experiment in the vein of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Unlike the latter, however, Tokyo Drift was not produced by a studio fueled by coke, LSD and a seething hatred for children, Halloween and Druidism.
This third entry in the FF series was a radical departure from the established continuity, though after six films it has finally been slotted into the canon. It actually takes place after 2013’s Furious 6 (but that’s not really important to this review, so let’s move along).
After John Singleton took 2 Fast 2 Furious as far as it could go (2 far?), the series seemed to be finished. Vin Diesel was done, Paul Walker was done, neither Cohen nor Singleton wanted to direct another one, but Universal knew it still had milk in this old cow. Someone needed to step up to squeeze the udders. Enter Justin Lin, fresh off Annapolis and ready for mainstream Hollywood success.
The only condition Lin seemed to have for helming this dying franchise was that he could carry over one of the characters from his 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow, Han Seoul-Oh. It turned out well, because the laid-back (almost somnolent), Obi-Wan aura of Han helps to mitigate the defining flaw of Tokyo Drift: its lead actor Lucas Black.
With this third installment, the franchise decided to take a bold leap forward in filmmaking by casting a protagonist with absolutely zero charisma and the complete talent of a piece of corn. The only decision more startling than this is the fact that Black has actually been cast for not one but two more FF films. I assume it’s for “the fans,” because the actor’s unique appeal has only landed him in five movies between 2006 and today.
Li’l Bow Wow, in a similar fashion, seems to have been thrown up on the screen because, well, I’m assuming Li’l Bow Wow was a big deal in the naughties. I couldn’t really tell you then; I certainly can’t tell you now.
Han exists for pretty much the same reason Ryan Reynolds’ character exists in Blade 3. Someone, somewhere, realized this movie was a lost cause as far as the script was concerned and blended a personality into the mix that would make the runtime just a little more bearable. In Reynolds’ case, it was a wisecracking smug muffin who managed to bullshit his way through every braindead frame of that flick. In Kang’s case, it’s a sly side-tagonist that is clearly living in a much more interesting story than the one we’re seeing.
But all is not lost. Justin Lin is a very capable director and there are one or two standout car scenes in this one (Boswell’s ridiculous first attempt at drifting in a parking garage and the chase scene through Tokyo between Boswell, DK and Han especially). The art of drifting is actually spellbinding, and Japan’s own “Drift King,” Keiichi Tsuchiya, was tapped to do many practical stunts in the film (he cameos as a fisherman while Boswell is learning to drift near the docks).
I’ve never been quite sure what Universal expected from Tokyo Drift, and if they expected more after they saw what Justin Lin did with it. There is a teaser at the end where Vin Diesel comes to pay his respects to Han and the new DK, and it feels like it was added after the fact. If that was the case then Diesel may have already signed on for Fast & Furious, but there’s no way the script could have already been written, because Han is alive and well in its prologue.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that Tokyo Drift seemed like a really silly last ditch attempt to make a buck before the franchise sputtered out, but there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Sometimes watching Lucas Black “act” is its own reward, but most of the enjoyment comes from the great Japanese culture clash and the injection of fresh blood that comes with a new cast. It would have been interesting to see the franchise stick with this new direction and visit different car cultures across the globe, but ultimately it chose to absorb the quirks of its sequels and frankenstein a whole new genre from its favorite parts.
Will our frankenstein survive a seventh installment without Justin Lin and Paul Walker? We’ll find out in 2015.
“For when you blow your wad, man.”
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Directed by Justin Lin
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