Back in the mid 90s Shuichi Shigeno created the Initial D manga and it was soon turned into a long running anime of the same name. Now ten years later the show's popularity has warranted the attention of Hong Kong film makers and a live action adaptation was put together. The movie features a ton of street racing which takes place all on the slopes of Mt. Akina, much like the show and manga did. If movies like Fast and the Furious are your thing, then you will definitely get into Initial D.
Since racing is the focal point of the film, you can expect that there is going to be a heck of a lot. In fact I'd say that like 85% of the movie takes place on the road and the characters themselves feel secondary compared to the racing as a focal point. It's not that its necessarily a bad thing, it's just that for a movie to work and grab a wide audience you need to have more dialogue than you have screeching tires. Unfortunately that's not really the case with Initial D and is probably the movies' biggest downfall.
With Andrew Lau in the director's chair and the cast that was assembled I was hoping for an exciting and interesting movie. Aside from the races though, there is almost no excitement what-so-ever here and in fact many of the characters seem bored stiff. There are a few bits where some great acting talent comes through and even a little emotion. For the most part though the movie seems to follow the pattern of a race then a little dialogue, wash and repeat
Unlike other racing movies too, there isn't really any connection with the character behind the wheel and the car. It's quite obvious in most scenes that there are special effects used and while the races may "look" exciting, there isn't really a sense of urgency or reality. An example of this is when there is a car crash at like 150 mph with the car being ripped to shreds. The funny thing is that the driver gets out and starts walking around all ticked off that he lost the race. It's certainly not something you're willing to see in a driver's education video and the whole feeling of the film just sucks the life out of the races.
Initial D follows the story of an 18 year old guy named Takumi (Jay Chou) who delivers tofu for his father's business. He's only had his license for a year, but he's been driving on Mt. Akina since he was thirteen. This means he knows the road like the back of his hand and has continually perfected his time going from top to bottom. As fate would have it a couple gangs of street racers like to race on this road and Takumi finds himself caught in the middle when he passes one of them on his way home.
It's no accident that the car handles like it does though because his father (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) modified the car to run perfectly. Takumi's dad not only has a passion for hitting the sauce, but also for racing and when he's not drunk off his ass he's encouraging his son's talent. Tossed into the mix is a confusion relationship between Takumi and a girl named Natsuki (Anne Suzuki). Aside from the little love angle thrown in the story doesn't deviate from watching Takumi race.
Everything in the movie feels like a plot device just to find a reason to have a car race and unfortunately I just have a hard time buying that Takumi wants to race so badly. When he drives he looks bored out of his skull and for the majority of the film he doesn't even talk about it. For my taste there's just not enough story to back up the racing, which at times needs a swift kick in the behind in order to be exciting.
Initial D is presented with a 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer and looks pretty good compared to some other Hong Kong releases I've seen recently. The image is very clean and crisp during the course of the film and some of the special effects used during the races looked very sharp. Unfortunately considering that most of the racing in the movie takes place at night time there is a bit of grain and pixilation that sneaks into the video at times. Other flaws I caught were some noticeable edge enhancement and a couple of specks at parts. Aside from the faults in the image the movie retains a very unique look and style of shooting and is pretty easy on the eyes.
There are three audio tracks present that each offer a pretty good channel mix with clear sound quality and presentation. With the driving sound effects that are used I really appreciated the directionality. Of course most of the dialogue comes from the front channel, but that's nothing new. There is no English dubbing available on this release, but it does offer Cantonese Dolby Digital EX, Cantonese DTS ES 6.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. For subtitles you can pick from traditional and simplified Chinese or English. The English subtitles feature some stiff translations in some parts, but for the most part they are acceptable.
On this two disc set, the first disc houses the feature film while the second has the bonus material. Aside from a few trailers for the movie there are actually quite a few special features included.
I was pretty interested in watching the behind the scenes featurettes considering that there are eight that are included and they offered some alternate views of the racing. Unfortunately they are presented in 2.0 Chinese with Chinese subtitles. I tried the disc in two different players and couldn't get English subtitles of any kind. This same problem is present in the other features too like deleted scenes, outtakes, character bios, making of feature and promotional videos.
Unless you're fluent in Chinese you'll be like me and just watching these for the video images. It's funny though, I noticed quite a few repeat videos used throughout different features. Of course it's not like I could actually have watched and understood what was being talked about. If you understand Chinese though it looks like there is plenty here to warrant your interest.
As much as I wanted to get into Initial D, I just couldn't look beyond the film's flaws (of which there is a couple). There are a few funny scenes and some of the racing moments can be pretty cool (even if they are void of emotion) but in the end I have to think that Initial D would be most enjoyed by fans of the manga and anime. Street racing movie buffs may also get into it considering that so much of the film is on the road with all sorts of drifting and tricked out cars.
This DVD release features some decent video and audio quality, but unless you've got that pocket translator handy for Chinese don't even bother with the bonus material. It's a shame too considering there is a wealth of stuff on the second disc that I would have been interested in understanding what they were talking about. Rent It
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