The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Sean Boswell is a kid who just can’t stay in one place for too long. His penchant for getting into trouble at school, particularly through illegal racing, leaves him getting sent by his mother from Los Angeles to live with his father in Tokyo. Sean quickly befriends military brat Twinkie who introduces his new friend to the drift racing scene. After a disastrous first race against the obvious villain, DK, Sean is taken under the wing of Han, an associate of DK’s. Han teaches Sean how to adapt to a new style of racing while DK is pressured by his uncle in the Yakuza to flex his muscle. Like all these films, it wraps up with a high-speed race where…surprise! The protagonist wins!
From the start of Tokyo Drift I could sense the look of the franchise had changed, and for the better. Where TF&TF seemed dull, and 2F2F looked dated, Tokyo Drift looks like a film that was matching the textures and aesthetics of its peers. Justin Lin brings his very kinetic camera from Better Luck Tomorrow so non-racing scenes have a sense of momentum. The racing also looks better in this film than the other two, in my opinion. Where in the previous two films, there was grossly obvious computer generated shots during high-speed races, here everything feels like it has weight. There are a couple silly moments using CG (a bottle of Tabasco sauce floating across the screen as a car flips over in slow motion), but the cuts from car interior to race exterior feel connected the real.
I was particularly happy with how the first race of the film looked and concluded. The race is between two high school students, so it is messy and imprecise. Property gets damaged, and cars flip over. Racers end up injured and arrested. The Tokyo races also looked good, Lin knows how to shoot drifting from just the right angles, so there is a tension as to whether a racer will have their car lined up correctly. There is less car stuff than the first two films, but overall what there is looks better.
Then we have the big problems of the picture. This was 2006, and I guess social mores on the agency of female characters has gotten better? Because Tokyo Drift has significant problems with the women as trophies trope. The first race has a high school girl placing herself up as the prize. The rest of the film has Neela, a classmate of Sean’s, as the object being battled for between he and DK. Neela seems to just go along with this, which adds to the disturbing nature of the plot. There’s some backstory established about Neela’s mother and her work in the sex trade and how Neela was left an orphan. So fictionally she may cling to whoever can provide basic needs for her. But, there is never a moment where she seems to step up and take charge of her own path in this story. She just leaves it up to the boys’ and their race.
The acting is also very weak here, everyone is one note and flat. No characters ever react interestingly, and everything is overplayed. I have to think this has more to do with the script and studio interference because, having seen Better Luck Tomorrow, Lin is able to get decent performances out of his actors. Lucas Black as the film’s lead is huge miscasting and he comes across as an asshole. The white man triumphant trope is a little less bad here than when we had Paul Walker magically mastering racing. Sean at least has to go through the ropes and is a fish out of water for most of the film. But in the end, we are left with the same tired crap of the white guy beats the ethnic guy and wins the girl.
My predictions for the next film:
I do know that Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6 so Han will be back in the next movie. I know it is called Fast & Furious, so there are no definite articles any longer. I don’t think this is the one with the Rock yet…I could be wrong. Jason Statham is going to show up as a villain at some point, but I think he has a brother they end up killing first. I know Dominic Toretto and his crew will be back. Somehow, Paul Walker will be reunited with them, and I assume we finally have pay off for the relationship with Mia. Hoping Roman Pearce and Taj are incorporated. I know they all come together at some point, but probably not quite yet. See you next time for Fast & Furious.