The Series Project: Fast & Furious (Part 1)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (dir. Justin Lin, 2006)
This is the only film without Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel only appears in a cameo. It deals with an all new set of characters and only seems to be related to the other films in its illegal car racing theme. At least until that cameo. I guess the streets of America weren't interesting enough, so we had to pack our bags and ship off to Tokyo. Only the lead character is still white, the love interest is still an olive-skinned Latina, there's still a wise-cracking black character, and the suave Asian is actually not Japanese. Multi-culti, yo.
The lead this time around is the ultra-Southern Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a teenager who looks to be about 27. When he gets into trouble for illegal street racing, he is forced to movie to Tokyo to stay with his Navy dad. He instantly falls in with the Tokyo racing crowd. The “drift” of the title is the slang term for the controlled skids required to spin fast cars quickly around tight corners in Tokyo's cramped parking structures. This is the only film that drifting will play into racing in any sort of meaningful way.
Sean runs afoul of a yakuza brat named DK(Brian Tee) and finds himself in debt with a benevolent hustler named Han (Sung Kang) who will appear in future sequels. His wisecracking black buddy is played by Bow Wow. He also develops eyes for Neela (Peruvian actress Nathalie Kelley, a considerable step down from the actresses we've grown accustomed to). The story will illogically boil down to a Big Race against the yakuza.
Looking over the cast, I'm surprised at how few Japanese actors are present. To make up for it, Tokyo Drift hits up fistfuls of clichéd Japanese iconography. The harajuku girls, the pachinko parlors, the capsule hotels, the sumo, the varied vending machines, the hashi (I've decided I'm trying to stay away from the more common but more racist “chopsticks.”
Han is a great character, and I understand why he was brought back to the series in future. He's a calm dude with a lot of money, a garage full of awesome cars, and what seems to be a fully functioning harem of girlfriends. He's a hustler and a crook, but we like this guy. You can tell he doesn't want to hurt anyone. It's a pity that he dies partway through the film. Not a spoiler; I think we all know he comes back. How does he die in this film, only to come back in later sequels? That's actually not going to be explained until the sixth movie.
Tokyo Drift. Pretty good, although a step back from the excess of the previous films. It's perhaps the least popular of the franchise because of its overall lack of connection. The sequels kind of retcon it, but it pretty much stands apart.
Be sure to come back next week as I explore the only bad film in the series, and what is quite easily the best. Until next week, stay fast and try not to be too furious.
Witney Seibold is the head film critic for Nerdist, and a contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.