Dir. by Justin Lin - 1 hr. 44 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
After the awful second installment in this franchise, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" is back to doing what the first movie did well. Even better, it's with new characters, a visually interesting setting, and a different angle on the hot babes/rad cars foundation that Vin Diesel and Paul Walker laid down.
Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a troubled high-school student, in the sense that he can't seem to avoid getting into trouble. He and his single mother have had to move repeatedly due to his getting kicked out of schools (for trouble involving street racing), and he quickly gets into another race with a football player, with his girlfriend as the stakes. It ends with everyone in the hospital, but star football players with rich parents don't get into trouble, and kids with a history of making trouble do. It's the end of the line with his mother, who sends him off to Japan to live with his estranged father. Even though there is some culture shock, teenagers doing stupid (but cool) things with cars is universal, and Sean wastes no time falling in with the local semi-legal car scene. He immediately challenges the relative of a Yakuza member to a race, but drifting is foundation of the Tokyo street racing scene, and Sean wrecks a borrowed car during the course of losing the race. This puts him in debt to Han (Sung Kang), which plants both of Sean's feet into the shady side of Tokyo.
If one wanted to do a sequel to a movie that had no cast in common with the original film, "Tokyo Drift" is a textbook example of how to do it. You might debate the foundation in the first place, which is largely a matter of personal preference, but the third installment gets all the things right that the second installment blew. The cars, muscles, and babes are part of the deal here, but the tone of "Tokyo Drift" is similar to the first "The Fast and the Furious," without telling the exact same story. Here, the main character of Sean is under heavy pressure from a variety of angles. If he can't stay out of trouble in Japan, there are no more stops between him and jail time. He's also in debt to a pseudo-gangster, which largely means that until that's settled, he doesn't have a lot of choice in any matters. And, much like the romance sub-plot in the first film, Sean falls for Neela (Nathalie Kelley), who just happens to be involved with D.K. (Brian Tee), the aforementioned relative of a Yakuza member, and the guy that Sean lost a race to almost immediately upon arriving in Japan. The idea of a man under pressure is central to the "Fast and Furious" franchise, and that's effectively communicated here.
The other part that makes this a good sequel is that, while adhering to the tenets of flesh and fast cars, "Tokyo Drift" offers a completely different visual experience, courtesy of Japan. Thankfully (and oddly enough), the characters all mostly speak English, but Tokyo is a strikingly different setting than Los Angeles. That difference keeps a lot of the elements being repeated fresh. Also, the different angle on racing (drifting this time, as opposed to American Muscle) opens up a lot of opportunities for different approaches to the big action pieces. Possibly the most spectacular example comes when D.K. comes after Han and Sean, which naturally ends up in a chase scene. Having earlier in the film visually set up what downtown Tokyo sidewalks look like, the chase takes all three cars through the throng of people. But they don't clear in a straight path, instead presenting the chance to watch three precision drivers drift around a turn in the middle of hundreds of people. When watching the scene, I wondered how on Earth they'd resolve cars going upwards of 100/kph aimed straight at that many people, and as it played out, it drew a huge smile out of me.
By the time the film has built to the Final Showdown, a Loser-Leaves-Town match between D.K. and Sean down a winding mountain, the anticipation for this race is built at least as well as in the first film. And it's a nail-biting, humdinger of a race. On the heels of having watched "2 Fast 2 Furious," it's striking what a difference a director who has a good handle on making action scenes work can make. Clearly, whomever is in charge of the franchise agreed; director Justin Lin has returned for at least the next three installments of this franchise (as of this date). I don't really know what to say about the acting in this film; it's not really the focus here, although it's not distracting either.
If you are a fan of the first film, I think that "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" offers another satisfying film in the series. This movie also starts an unfortunate habit of hooking me for the next installment with the final scene, a short cameo that made me definitely want to check out "Fast & Furious," the fourth in the series. Again, you need to exercise your judgment before jumping into this pond, but if you dig car movies, you could do a lot worse than "Tokyo Drift."
3 / 5 - Blu-Ray