Thursday, June 22, 2006

R#26: The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift


‘When the truth walks away, everybody stays,
Coz the truth about the world is that crime does pay…’


The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift


The go faster kids in go faster cars franchise returns. Only this time the action takes place on the opposite side of the world, the cars are harder, and the audience, mercifully, gets away without attracting the attention of “wooden” Paul Walker – even if his replacement looks a trifle “mid-thirties” for an under-18 high school kid.

Tokyo Drift is far from being the worst movie I’ve seen this year (stand up and bow, Aeon Flux), but that statement deserves the same caveat I applied to Transporter 2. I like this kind of movie it’s the kind of trashy nonsense film I go the cinema specifically to enjoy. That doesn’t mean I like all of them (Aeon Flux being an example, Torque being another – what a ridiculous name for a motorcycle movie – but Stealth was awesome!), but keep it in mind for when I’m saying good things later – it’s all a matter of context.

With this film, the franchise has gotten away from yawning straight line combat of the first movie, and almost gets beyond the lack of realism in the second. They’ve gone instead to the heart of a very genuine and unique type of street racing – drifting, in Japan. And they’ve tackled it without the pointless bells and whistles. No neons here; just stripped interiors, big turbos, bodykits and NOS. It’s almost believably hardcore.

But a further disclaimer: a huge amount of screen time is devoted to the drift sequences. If you aren’t a car person you are going to get bored. Hell, even if you are a car person, you might still get bored – exactly how many times can you watch a souped-up rice rocket going sideways is an unquantifiable predilection. For me, it was enthralling almost entirely – in spite of my disdain for action that occasionally appears like it wasn’t shot using “reality”. Some of the visuals are just breath-taking, perfectly in tune with a Playstation generation jacked into Gran Tourismo on replay.

They still haven’t got it completely right. While much, much better than the first two F&Fs, it seems that Hollywood could still learn about filming fast cars from BBC’s Top Gear, which captures epic speeds and driving exhilaration far more emotively. Tokyo Drift genuinely touches on this greatness in places, though: a moment when crowds crossing a busy busy Tokyo square split like disturbed snowflakes during the penultimate chase sequence, as drifting almost in slow motion the protagonists scythe their way unstoppably through. Reflecting a camera shot from earlier in the film, it’s almost Matrix like its entrancement – an impression that’s enhanced by the horrified looks on the faces of … and love interest… as for a single instant they seem to realise how close their actions take them to horrific injury and death.

And that’s my biggest problem with this film. Although Tokyo Drift manages to make only oblique references to drugs, the stars don’t smoke and are seen sipping only bottled water, its underlying moral message seems to be that crime does pay. If we ignore a fairly significant death – which the other characters all seem to do – this movie portrays life above the speed limit and beyond the law as a life without serious consequences. “Glorification” isn’t the word…

A trait evident in the previous films, it’s far more prevalent here. The kid does get chucked out of the States to avoid going to prison for transgressions committed in the opening minutes. But he lands on his feet in a country where all the school kids seem to be driving hugely modified – and therefore expensive – motor vehicles. We’re given only one explanation for how they could possibly afford them – and it isn’t a lemonade stall.

There are trace elements of the other bad stuff from the first films, too. The girls are all tall, slim, shapely, and ideally kissing each other; classic movie clichés abound (“You think this is a game?!” being my personal favourite); and stereotyping is rife – in this instance taking on Japanese culture. I suppose I could also say something profound about the constant opposition of American muscle cars and Japanese techno speed, but you can work that one out for yourself. Although the late appearance of a Camero/Skyline fusion disrupts this somewhat.

But the good stuff? It’s all in the details. Neat performances and competent direction give life to some flat characters – with no rushing to the scene end (kinda funny in a high speed car film) mean there’s time for expression, emotion and even silence. A friend remarked that Sonny Chiba – who plays Han, … legally ambivalent “mentor” –phoned in his performance somewhat, but even if he did he’s still one of the best things in it. The script is only moderately jarring in places, and they drop all the right car names without ever feeling the need to over-explain. While the music, the noise (vroooom), and the cinematography set a definite atmosphere; an audience that started loud and chatty quickly dropped into remarkable silence when I saw it. Plus I winced at every car crunching impact. Those poor automobiles…

And there’s the truth – the cars (and by extension, the stunt drivers) are the stars. However the filming was done, a Nissan ascending a spiral parking ramp on opposite lock is beautiful to behold. Seeing the lurch as the boost hits and the NOS kicks does something to me I can’t quite explain. I love the way the really hot cars sound lumpy at idle and recalcitrant at low speed – it’s just so correct. And I’m still in awe of the j-turn that looks overcooked until the driver powers away sideways in the opposite direction. The fact that there was a story, too – no matter how shallow – was just a bonus under the circumstances.

Another friend said it was like Grease without the music. Opinions differ.


Links:

Hey, how about a film review: Transporter 2 [internal]

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift @ IMDb

The Fast and The Furious Official Site

Spy Footage of the new Fast And Furious Tokyo uploaded by SideWayStarion @ StreetFire.net

And, when I was looking for the above, I found this:

Why you have to watch Fast and Furious 3 Tokyo Drift by Shinkaze @ StreetFire.net

…which is an argument for going to see the movie on the basis that if you don’t, Hollywood might not make any more car movies. Take note, he/she (?!) might have a point.


Picture is from moviesonline.ca


Lyrics from The Offspring ‘Have You Ever’, which is on their Americana album, and has no specific relation to this film.

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