Lucas Black - Sean Boswell
Bow Wow - Twinkie
Nathalie Kelley - Neela
Brian Tee - Takashi [DK]
Sung Kang - Han Seoul-Oh
Brian Goodman - Lieutenant Boswell
Genre - Action/Crime
Running Time - 104 Minutes
When he's arrested for vandalizing property during a street race with a rival (Zachery Ty Bryan), Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is sent to Japan to live with his father (Brian Goodman). The culture shock and living with his estranged dad take a toll on Sean. However, he meets an American army brat named Twinkie (Bow Wow) at school, who sells things for income and has a love for cars. This love for cars helps the two connect as friends, as Twinkie introduces Sean to an underground world of street racing. In particular, Japan focuses on a special type of driving known as drifting.
As Sean adjusts to this new way of living, he meets an Australian army brat named Neela (Nathalie Kelley). The two begin to flirt, but Neela is the girlfriend of Takashi (Brian Tee) - known as DK, or "Drift King" - who may have ties to the Yakuza. Sean and Takashi race each other in order to impress Neela, but Takashi smokes Sean when it comes to drifting. Even though he's lost, he impresses Takashi's business partner, Han (Sung Kang). Han sees something in Sean and wants to teach him how to drift.
Sean and Han's relationship puts a strain between Han and Takashi. Also, Neela has been developing strong feelings for Sean, which makes Sean a bigger target for Takashi and his gang. When things get really personal, Sean challenges Takashi to one more race. The stipulation: the loser must leave Tokyo for good.
- It feels fresh. While THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT isn't a great movie, at least it attempts to differentiate itself from the two films that came before it. While the first THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS took its story from POINT BREAK, TOKYO DRIFT decides that THE KARATE KID is the way to go. You know how the story goes: Teenager moves to a new place, has trouble fitting in, falls in love with a girl, has issues with the girl's (ex)boyfriend, gets trained by someone more wise to defend himself against the girl's (ex)boyfriend, and gets the girl and the respect he wanted at the end. Sean is Daniel. Han is Mr. Miyagi. Ali is Neela. Johnny is Takashi. And instead of martial arts, it's cars. And while I could criticize this sequel for taking a well-known template and using it as its own, at least it allows the franchise to feel somewhat new and different.
TOKYO DRIFT is really the teenage version of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Instead of dealing with cops and crime lords, it's more focused on teenage rebellion and finding oneself in order to feel accepted within a new world. While the first two films lacked any sort of substantial plot lines that could grab an audience, this installment actually does. I'm not saying they're executed well [which I'll get into later], but at least there's an attempt to make us care for the characters and the situations they're in. The main character, Sean, has the most development in the film - even if it could be deeper than what's presented. Sean is a troubled teen, but has a good heart and is loyal to people who return the same. It's obvious that his troubles stem from a broken home. His father is stationed in Japan [he's a Naval officer] and his mother [from what I can tell] would rather be a woman than raise a kid on her own. Because of the lack of parenting his life, Sean constantly had to move until he officially is forced to live with his father, who was never really there for him either. He's treated like an outcast at school for being a gaijin [outsider]. His love for racing with cars gets him into a ton of trouble with his father and with Takashi, whose girlfriend has a thing for Sean. And when his mentor, Han, gets into really serious trouble, Sean defends his honor and walks away accepted and a hero. In a strange way, TOKYO DRIFT is a coming-of-age story. Yes, it was done better in THE KARATE KID and in countless other films. But at least it makes this installment stand out for more than just not having most of the original cast involved.
I also like that the film focuses on the art of "drifting". I'm sure the game got inspired by a lot of racing video games at the time, in particular the Burnout series which made drifting mandatory to complete races and other challenges. It gives the film a "reason" to exist, in my opinion. The main chunk of the story is Han teaching Sean how to drift in order to contend with Takashi and change the status quo. We get a bunch of scenes in the middle act in which Sean gets better and better as he practices, feeling more at home with Han and their friends than with his own father, who doesn't really try to understand and bond with his son. In the other films, the characters already know how to use the NOS and street race. Here, the main character is starting from scratch. And strange enough, learning how to drift is sort of a metaphor of a boy finally becoming the man he's meant to be. While it's not the best execution in the world, at least it tries to get the audience invested. And because of that, I can respect the existence for TOKYO DRIFT. It doesn't feel like a standard sequel. It feels new, even if audiences didn't want it at the time.
- The cast. Like every other THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS film, the acting is never the highlight of the film - at least intentionally. But I do like the cast here for the most part. And honestly, the acting here isn't all that terrible. Is it inspiring? Not even close. But given what the script allows the actors to do, the actors do fine in their respective roles.
Lucas Black, best known for the films SLING BLADE and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, isn't the most charismatic actor as Sean. He's not the right guy to carry a film like this. But his Southern accent and the way he carries himself makes him somewhat interesting. Bow Wow isn't all that annoying here as one would expect. He doesn't really do a whole lot but be the token black guy. But unlike Tyrese in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, Bow Wow isn't overdoing trying to be cool. So it's an improvement. Nathalie Kelley is cute and pretty good as Neela. Her and Black don't really have that much chemistry really, but she's one of the better actors here. Brian Tee is quite good as Takashi. He's very charismatic and has a bad boy quality that comes across as authentic. Compared to the more bland Black, Tee is a highlight as the film's main antagonist. And Sung Kang is very good as Han. There's a mystery and an edge about him that makes the role work, extending somewhat to Black whenever the two share the same scene. It's not surprising that Han would come back to the original franchise with the original cast. He's a welcome addition to the series. And of course, we get a short cameo at the end from Vin Diesel. It doesn't do a whole much for the film besides connect it to the rest of the franchise. But it's nice to see Diesel regardless. Not a bad cast.
- Justin Lin. The producers hired Justin Lin after seeing his film, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, thinking Lin would be able to freshen up the franchise a bit. Lin is definitely a more grounded, straightforward director than Rob Cohen and John Singleton. Rather than relying on cool colors, ridiculous CGI effects, and MTV style editing, Lin directs the film with confidence and with more realism [well as realistic as possible]. Lin does inject style in the form of montages, slow motion, and even fast motion. And some scenes feel like a music video at times, which is fine since these scenes have a soundtrack behind them. The cinematography is good. The editing is also pretty good as well. Some camera movements are quite cool at times. I just like the guy's style. It's not as flashy as previous directors, yet still feels like a FAST AND FURIOUS film. Lin would get better as he filmed more sequels, but it's a pretty good start.
- Not exciting enough. The downside to Justin Lin's direction is that the action scenes don't seem as good as in previous versions. Maybe it's because the way Lin shoots scenes in this film tend to be more subtle than Cohen or Singleton. But the race and chase scenes don't seem to amp you up as they would in previous versions. While the slower versions are directed pretty decently, the action sequences lack a certain something. I'm not sure if it's because of the editing, or the framing, or just the choreography of these sequences. But they just seem pedestrian. The last race, in particular, should feel thrilling and dramatic. Instead, you don't feel much for it at all. It's weird because the race actually has the best reason for even happening here than in the previous two, yet the buildup isn't enough to make the final sequences mean more than they should. Instead, it just feels like been there, done that.
- Underdeveloped plot lines and characters. Not a surprise by this point. It's something we should be used to when it comes to this franchise. However, it bugged me more here than it did in the others. Why? Because there was a real chance to make the subplots feel more meaningful than they actually are. Sean's struggle with his parents, especially his father, would have meant more if we actually knew more about their relationship and why it's strained to begin with. There was more of a story there than what was actually told.
The love triangle aspect also felt half-assed as well. For me, this hurt the film because this was the catalyst for the drama between Sean and Takashi - which led to everyone else getting involved. Sean and Neela barely share any scenes together, and when they do, it's pretty cliche. There was no sense of chemistry between the three characters, which made that love story fall flat.
As for the mafia stuff, it felt like a last minute addition to make Takashi more of a villain and a way for Sean to get revenge on him. I doubt any serious Yakuza [or whoever they were] leader would let some outsider demand a deal to get one of their own kicked out of the group over someone's death. It just seemed too easy and too convenient. And doing so through a race? It's hilarious. But maybe that's the point.
The characters all deserved more development than they actually receive. You know enough through their stereotypical personae, but this sequel seemed more focused on the teen drama rather than the action. In that case, the story and the characters should have had more substance to compensate for lack of eye candy and action with cars. The slower, quieter moments tended to drag a bit because you didn't really care about who you're watching. At least the other films distracted you with pretty things on screen. If the story is going to be as shallow as this one turned out to be, then TOKYO DRIFT should have had more action. The balance was pretty off here.
THE FINAL HOWL
I used to really dislike this sequel back when I watched it in 2006. But after watching it again, I actually didn't mind it too much. TOKYO DRIFT is not a great film, but it's not a bad one either. It does have some things going for it, like a decent cast, a fresh director, and a newer feel from the first two films. But there isn't enough action to distract from a shallow screenplay. And what's even worse, the action isn't all that exciting or that fun to watch. Still, it's a decent flick and time waster. And since it supposedly takes place after the events of the current sequels, you don't really need to watch it to catch up with the current timeline. Still, TOKYO DRIFT is probably better than it has any right to be.