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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (HD DVD)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (HD DVD)
Universal // PG-13 // September 26, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 12, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift sets a few noteworthy milestones for the still-kinda-fledgling HD DVD format. It's the first recent theatrical release from Universal to debut day-and-date with the DVD edition, and it's the first HD DVD to really take advantage of some of the interactive bells and whistles the format has to offer. Tokyo Drift is also the first combo disc with a second layer on the HD DVD side, giving it a full 30 gigs of breathing room and twice the capacity of all other combo releases to date. So, sure, this HD DVD of Tokyo Drift is noteworthy in a bullet-points-on-a-press-release or Internet-message-board-specs-spanking kinda way, but as a movie...? Not so much. It's surprisingly okay, though, but...sssshhhh! Don't tell anyone I'm writing a sorta-positive review of a movie with "The Fast and the Furious" before the colon.

Aside from being fast and somewhat furious, Tokyo Drift doesn't have much of anything to do with the other two movies in the series: no undercover cops, no Paul Walker for someone to wind up and let vacantly bob around for the better part of two hours, no drug lords or theft rings to bring down, and...yikes, barely any NOS. Yup, the other flicks' NOS-fetish is mostly relegated to tanks in the background and only briefly comes into play in one race...and even then not until more than forty minutes in. Tokyo Drift's only real connection to the rest of the franchise is a heavily-advertised surprise cameo that's shoehorned into its last couple of minutes, maybe to set up the upcoming 2 Tokyo 2 Drift. Judging by its lackluster turn at the box office, I guess that means fans of the series see an in-name-only sequel as a bad thing. Me? I kinda liked it.

Whatever appeal Tokyo Drift holds, it's not in the story. The movie opens in I-don't-know-where, USA with mid-to-late-twenties high schooler Sean "BR549" Boswell (Lucas Black) racing one of the kids from Home Improvement in a partially developed subdivision. Sean's driving literally brings down the house (zing!), and given the choice between juvie and deportation, the homewrecker opts to move into his father's walk-in-closet-of-an-apartment in Tokyo. The law is quickly laid down: "You live under my roof, you live by my rules!", insisting that he doesn't want to see Sean so much as near a car or his ass is being shipped back media mail to Alabama or whatever. Guess Pops missed the TV spots and trailers 'cause classmate Twinkie (the no-longer-lil' Bow Wow) introduces him to the underground world o' drift racing a couple minutes later. (Drifting? Think driving, only sideways.) Like the man says, "if you ain't outta control, you ain't in control!"

The king of drifting is D.K., which stands for "drift king" on account of him being the king of drifting and all. He's also the nephew of a Yakuza crime lord played by Sonny Chiba and, despite being in high school, apparently heads up some sort of collection racket. When Sean starts sniffing around his gaijin-girl Neela (newcomer Nathalie Kelley), D.K. challenges him to a race in a parking garage. D.K.'s partner Han (Sung Kang) tosses Sean the keys to his decked-out Skyline just to see what the kid can do, and what the kid can do is trash the hell out of it after getting his ass handed to him by Dee Kay. Han takes Sean under his wing because trust and character are more important than money or something, and he teaches Sean the finer points of drift racing. So, yeah, turns out the reason Han can afford disposable racing cars is because he's skimming off the top, bringing the wrath-of-the-wrath of the Yakuza down on him. Anyway, it all culminates in a Yakuza-sanctioned drift race with D.K. down a mountain, and the loser has to leave town...forever!

So, yeah, the plot's a mix of trite and stupid, the dialogue's even worse, and yet, somehow I walked away liking Tokyo Drift anyway. Part of it's because there's something so instantly likeable about Lucas Black (even with that gratin' Suthern draaaaaawl) and especially Sung Kang. Bow Wow's not a bad actor either, and although this admittedly isn't saying all that much, his is the strongest of the three Obligatory Rapper Supporting Roles in the franchise. It probably goes without saying that the best part of the movie is the racing, and the emphasis on drifting distinguishes Tokyo Drift from the other two Fast-'n-Furious flicks. It's a thrill to watch, and there's a sense of skill and precision to the driving -- something more than a high credit limit or pressing a red button on the steering wheel at the right time -- that's missing from the other movies. There's also more of an emphasis on practical effects instead of candy-colored, computer-generated cars, and that coupled with the lack of chest-puffing let's-bring-down-the-bad-guys leaves Tokyo Drift feeling like more of a movie and less of a cartoon. Tokyo Drift knows it's a summer popcorn flick but rolls with it, becoming strangely endearing along the way. Not a great movie by any stretch but a genuinely okay way to kill a couple of hours.

Video: I can probably skip the whole glossary routine by this point, but for those of you just tuning in, combo discs have a HD DVD version of the movie on one side and a standard definition version that'll play in any traditional DVD player on the other.

Tokyo Drift's 2.39:1 high definition visuals are among the very best I've seen on HD DVD. The movie's so recently out of theaters that it should go without saying that the presentation's devoid of any wear or speckling, and even as these cars fling themselves across hairpin turns, there's no trace of artifacting. Quite a bit of the movie's set at night, and despite some of the quick-and-dirty photography the crew had to resort to in Tokyo, black levels look spot-on throughout with virtually no noise or grain. The elaborate paint jobs as well as Tokyo's persistent neon glow contribute to the movie's vividly saturated palette, and it's one of just a couple of HD DVDs that looks startlingly sharp and detailed even when I stand just a few inches away from the screen. This HD DVD approaches perfection, and any possible qualms anyone might have could undoubtedly be traced back to the original photography or its stylized visuals.

Audio: Although Dolby TrueHD tracks are still few and far between on HD DVD, it's hard to care when a Dolby Digital Plus mix sounds this good. Tokyo Drift's greatest strength is its dynamic range, boasting a tight, punishing low-frequency assault as well as crisp, cleanly rendered discrete effects. The racing sequences in particular are overflowing with seamless pans and exceptionally strong imaging. The aggressive mix never overwhelms the film's dialogue, although I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that's a good thing. Quite possibly the best of the fifty or so Dolby Digital Plus tracks I've heard so far.

Six-channel Dolby Digital Plus dubs are also offered in French and Spanish, and there are optional subtitle streams in each of disc's three languages.

Supplements: Tokyo Drift is the first HD DVD to feature Universal's "U-Control" interactive experience, and it's a marked improvement over the 'Instant Access' and 'In Movie Experience' features we've seen up to this point. Tokyo Drift is still anchored around the picture-in-picture video overlays from those releases (with the welcomed ability to adjust the volume in the audio menu), consisting of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that are usually keyed to whatever's happening on-screen at the moment. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, an icon bar lets you know what features are accessible at that time. Since it's called "U-Control" and not "U-Sit-There-Passively-and-Watch", it's left up to the viewer to decide what options to enable at what time, and it's just a matter of selecting an icon and mashing the center button on the remote. You can get a quick set of specs on the movie's racecars, plot the cars' location mid-race on a GPS, get a virtual insurance adjuster to tally the price tag on the havoc Sean and company wreak, and overlay storyboards, conceptual art, and production stills on-screen. Unlike Warner's In Movie Experiences that require starting the movie from the beginning, U-Control can be enabled at any time with a press of the 'A' button. The interface is very intuitive, and training myself to peek over at the icon bar quickly became second nature; it's kind of like glancing at the rear view mirror while driving. A "play all" option might be a nice addition for future U-Control releases just because I'm too lazy to voluntarily click and re-click the same types of options on my remote, but I really like the concept and am looking forward to seeing how Universal refines it from here.

Another feature exclusive to the HD DVD side of the disc is the ability to customize a car and incorporate it into a scene from the movie. It's not quite as powerful as it sounds; there are only sixteen possible combinations (1 body style, 4 paint jobs, 2 types of wheels, and 2 highlights), and the footage of your car doing a doughnut to impress a couple of chicks only runs thirty seconds or so. I'm not sure if the HD DVD is rendering the scene in real-time or just playing back one of sixteen sets of pre-processed footage. I'm intrigued if the disc is doing this completely on-the-fly, but otherwise, it seems like the real achievement is in the menu/interface, not the end result. Neat, without a doubt, but not as groundbreaking as I thought it'd be.

For whatever reason, a music video for Far*East Movement's "Round Round" and a soundtrack spot have also been tossed solely onto the HD DVD side. Other than what's been rattled off above, all of the disc's remaining extras are available on both sides of the disc.

Next up is an audio commentary with director Justin Lin. It's breezy and unpretentious, and Lin has enough stories to spout off that the pacing never drags. It's not weighed down by self-serious overanalysis or meticulously technical notes, and the best parts just have Lin talking about shooting in Japan: stealing shots and filming whatever he could before the cops showed up, having to tone down the movie's presentation of Tokyo because it'd seem too unbelievably over-the-top if presented faithfully, the model-hounds and clubs-within-a-club that inspired one scene, and casting the Oprah of Japan, the Michael Jordan of Japan, the Tom Cruise of Japan, and probably a few other "________ of Japan"s that I'm forgetting. Comparisons to Westerns, putting together the closing cameo, some digital digital manipulation in the climax, the skill of the Japanese drifters, dropping $150K to make sure the Skyline/'67 Mustang hybrid would work...yeah, I dug it. Solid commentary and worth a listen.

There are also eighteen minutes of deleted scenes. As Lin notes in his optional audio commentary, they were trimmed out for pacing, and some of what seemed so essential when the movie was being written felt redundant when he and his editors were piecing it all together. There are eleven scenes in total with the highlight being Twinkie careening around an abandoned mall with one of his pals strapped to the roof of his car.

The disc's fifty minutes or so of featurettes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. I realize that it may not be feasible to produce all of a disc's extras in high-definition at this stage in the game, but at least give it to me 16x9-enhanced; something this newly produced shouldn't be flanked on all four sides by black bars. Drifting naturally gets most of the attention, beginning with a three minute introduction to Keiichi Tsuchiya, the real-life "drift king" who contributed his expertise to the film. "Welcome to Drifting" (6 min.) further explores the origins of drifting and how its visual flair has made it so immensely popular in Japan. The movie's drifting doubles also explain how to drift for anyone with a few replacement tires collecting dust. The longest of these featurettes is "Tricked Out to Drift", an eleven minute run through each of the movie's main cars and how the filmmakers tried to find the best vehicular match for each character's personality. Formula D champ Rhys Millen also shows the cast the finer points of drifting in the seven and a half minute clip "Drifting School".

The most elaborate chase in the movie is Han's last ride through Tokyo, and "The Big Breakdown" documents the planning and execution of this sequence in detail, also noting how Lin and company were able to seamlessly switch between footage filmed in L.A. and Tokyo throughout. "The Japanese Way" (10 min.) features Lin and some of the main cast noting the thrills and sporadic headaches of filming in Tokyo, with Lin commenting about how some of the restrictions on shooting in the city brought out an indie guerilla-shooting style he's missed since making the transition into mainstream Hollywood. Finally, there's a four minute montage of the cast passing a DV camera around the set along with a music video for Don Omar's "Conteo".

Tokyo Drift is also the first Universal HD DVD since near-launch to have custom menus -- no more of that generic design-plus-tiny logo. Another added nicety is a progress bar when pausing, showing exactly where you are in the movie and how much time is left.

Conclusion: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift may be the most technically impressive HD DVD of the eighty or so releases on the format to date, but it's too passably okay a movie to justify paying anything close to its $39.98 MSRP. I might've been more enthused if Tokyo Drift had been a less dauntingly priced, traditional HD DVD, but the sticker shock and mediocre movie leave this disc better suited to a rental. Rent It.
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