I can't always be in the mood for McDonald's, but sometimes, it's exactly what I'm looking for. The first time I saw The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I remember being pretty bored by its unoriginality, but this time, I had a pretty good time. Director Justin Lin doesn't mix up the formula -- it's still about cars, goin' fast -- but he does bring a level of stylishness to it that neither of the previous films had. Lin's Fast and the Furious gleams like the finish on the vehicles in the movie, and on that level, it's engaging.
According to the world of Tokyo Drift, if you do too much damage in a street race, you can go to Japan instead of juvenile hall, and Sean Bosworth (Lucas Black) chooses exactly that after causing a couple wrecks in a housing development. But moving halfway across the world doesn't solve his taste for trouble behind the wheel, and he soon manages to get himself in over his head with two locals, for better and for worse. He races and wrecks a car belonging to Han (Sung Kang), who takes Sean under his wing and teaches him how to drift. His opponent, however, is known as the Drift King (Brian Tee), who doesn't like Sean's attitude, the way Sean races, or how Sean is instantly comfortable with his girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley). Sean and DK's rivalry starts to heat up, and as things get more and more tense, the threat of it attracting the attention of DK's yakuza uncle Kamata (Sonny Chiba) inches closer and closer.
The conceit of Tokyo Drift is exactly that: It's set in Tokyo, and it's about drifting. The movie does make for an effective travelogue of the city, spotlighting rooftop soccer arenas, bustling city streets, and neon billboards as far as the eye can see. One thing the Fast and the Furious franchise has never completely forgotten is how street racing is a multicultural affair, and while Tokyo Drift definitely veers into some questionable territory (white Alabama teenager conquers Japan in an American muscle car? Most of the Asian characters are villains...), there's still a good blend going on, even if that means I have to endure Bow Wow, playing the guy who can get you anything inside the joint, just outside the joint, in Japan, speaking English, at age 18 (his character is even named Twinkie, for some reason).
As for the drifting, I don't know if people will have the tolerance for watching one stunt over and over, no matter how cool it might be, but I do think drifting's a pretty smooth trick. Whenever the stunt players pull off the drifting for real, it looks pretty cool, as characters drift up the curved ramps of a parking garage and down the winding Japanese hills. Of course, the movie often has to resort to digital drifting, which is not nearly as cool. One scene in particular, a romantic scene with Sean and Neela team drifting while reflecting on their childhoods, looks terribly fake. Additionally, since it's the movie's title stunt, the film tends to lean on it like a crutch. I understand that you need to appease the people that came to see some drifting, but a car chase that concludes the second act is kind of ridiculous, with the characters often drifting for no reason.
Aside from those two points, Tokyo Drift is a slightly better version of the original. The dialogue is often terrible, but Lucas Black (an interesting, friendly lead) and Sung Kang (equally friendly, but playing a corny "mentor" character) handle it a little better than Paul Walker, although Black's extremely strong Texas accent stops a few scenes dead in their tracks. Much like Matt Schulze's character in the first film, Brian Tee spends most of the movie glowering like an immature kid, with his emotional range stretching from smirk to frown. The best part of the whole cast, though, is of course the great Sonny Chiba. He's only got ten minutes of screen time during the entire movie, but he seems to be having more fun than the entire cast combined, smoking giant cigars and speaking as much with his eyes as he does with his mouth. Tokyo Drift is also the first one to end with a race-off, and it's all topped off by a particularly fun cameo that all the TV spots apparently spoiled when the movie was in theaters. I'm not going to follow suit, but it's a nice touch, and fans of the franchise will appreciate it.
What more can I say? Like all of the entries in this series, the movie looks good, does what it sets out to do, and doesn't strain itself in the process. These days, action movies are all socially and politically relevant, as if being reminded about what's going on in the real world is necessary for the audience's interest. Personally, I like my action movies a little less meticulously complicated, and you won't get much simpler than a one-on-one race where winner takes all. "How about me?" says a bubble-headed blonde at the beginning of the movie when stakes are needed for a race. "Winner...takes...me!" she proclaims. This wouldn't ever happen in real life, and I was reminded I was watching a stupid Hollywood action movie, but sometimes, I don't mind.
This two-disc set arrives in a single-width case with a flap tray. The front cover is the same as the previous release, which is too bad; the poster art was a tad more stylish. There's a foil slipcover, and similar art underneath (minus the bright orange border), and no insert is included. A $7.50 ticket to see the new film, Fast & Furious, is included in the form of a ticket-shaped sticker attached to the front with an online code on the back. On this one, the sticker was underneath the plastic wrap instead of on the cardboard slip (likely to prevent people from stealing the sticker and not buying the DVD). It left ink residue on the plastic, but it wiped away pretty easily.
If you've read my reviews of The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious's "Limited Edition" sets, you know what to expect: Disc 1 of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is identical to the single-disc edition already on the market. Thankfully, third time's the charm for the series as Tokyo Drift looks pretty great on DVD. The streets of Tokyo are an eye-popping extravaganza of color that trumps even Vegas, not to mention the bold red of Sean's EVO and the multitude of cars scattered throughout the film. This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation represents all of them vividly, while also deftly handling inky blacks and crisp detail. I may or may not have detected a few edge halos (lots of white backgrounds and dark clothing), but other than that, this is a transfer befitting a recent film.
Bass and subwoofer are the order of the day on the movie's English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track. Pretty much every song on the soundtrack has the low end going, and the directionality is strong as the cars screech around each corner. It also hits more strongly than 2 Fast 2 Furious's 5.1 mix, and unlike that film, I don't find myself missing a DTS track. Like the picture, the audio on this disc is up to current standards. Spanish and French 5.1 are also onboard, along with English captions and Spanish and French subtitles.
The breakdown of bonus features on Disc 1 mirrors the existing single-disc Tokyo Drift release already available. Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.
A reel of non-anamorphic deleted scenes (19:15) open up the disc, which cover the down-homey Lucas Black dealing with Japanese culture shock, racial and menstruation humor, delicious wasabi, the personal (and sexual) electricity revealed through drifting, and most importantly, the danger of infuriating Bow Wow with flat soda. There's a fairly awesome moment with Chiba, but these edits don't reveal anything special. Commentary with Justin Lin is optional.
There are a couple of good featurettes on the disc. The most interesting is "The Real Drift King" (3:42), which introduces us to Keiichi Tsuchya, the true-life "drift king" and advisor on the film. The featurette is weirdly half-dubbed (either that, or Tsuchya speaks in the third person), but there's some cool footage of him on set doing a few stunts himself. "Cast Cam" (4:23) is a friendly reel of on-set nonsense documenting bra-laden go-kart races, the jobs of extras, and lots of dancing. Lastly, "The Japanese Way" (9:48) is a fun look at Tokyo and the challenges of shooting on the other side of the world. As for the rest of the behind-the-scenes pieces, maybe I'm just burned out (it's extremely similar to the featurettes on the other two Fast and the Furious DVDs), but none of it is all that interesting. "Drifting School" (7:39) kicks off the featurettes with a look at the actors learning to do the movie's title stunt. "The Big Breakdown" (8:30) takes a look at one of the film's central chase sequences, revealing the difficulties of coordinating an action sequence and the struggle to recreate a section of downtown Tokyo (note: the featurette has a slightly longer title, but it's a spoiler if you haven't seen the film, so watch the movie before navigating to the special features menu). Finally, "Tricked Out to Drift" (11:04) dissects what goes into the cars in order to make them work for the movie (including the development of Bow Wow's ridiculous Hulk van). The actors' enthusiasm can be infectious, and car lovers may enjoy much of it, but I doubt anyone will revisit the other bits.
The video extras on Disc 1 conclude with a music video for Don Omar's song "Conteo".
Shuffled to the very end of the special features menu is an audio commentary by director Justin Lin. There are a lot of gaps of silence, and Lin refers to everyone as "a great guy", but it's more screen-specific than the tracks for the other two movies, which is my personal preference. He delves into the shooting of each scene in the movie, pointing out what he tried to bring to it as an Asian-American filmmaker, despite not being a big car guy (like myself). Topics include how modern Tokyo is, the professionalism of the extras there, and the Japanese counterparts for every American celebrity (i.e. the "Oprah Winfrey of Japan", the "Tom Cruise of Japan", etc) who make cameos in the film. Given the choice between the three commentaries for each of the Fast and the Furious films, I liked Lin's the best.
The third and final batch of new features is the shortest-looking of all: only two new extras grace the "Limited Edition" of Tokyo Drift. "Making the Fast Franchise (17:03) is the kind of featurette I've been expecting to see on all three of these DVDs, covering the history of the franchise with both new and vintage interviews from various cast and crew. It probably could have used a few new interviews (a retrospective view from Cohen would have been nice), and as always there's too many film clips, but it's a good overview of the series, up to and including a bit of info on Fast & Furious. The other extra, however, is a huge surprise: "Drift: A Sideways Craze" (59:59) focuses on Swedish professional drifter Samuel Hübinette and Japanese professional drifter Ken Gushi as they drift in various professional competitions, concluding with the D1 Grand Prix. You also get to meet rookie drifter Alex Corstorphine and see his interactions with them over the course of a year. It's a full-fledged documentary on the sport, likely produced for ESPN or some similar channel, and its ties to Tokyo Drift are limited to a couple of minutes with Hübinette explaining how he worked on the film doubling Brian Tee's DK character. It runs a little long, but it's easily the most interesting extra in the set, and the most interesting extra produced for all of these new "Limited Editions". Racing fans will certainly appreciate the added value.
Automatic trailers for NBC's "Friday Night Lights", Waist Deep, and Slither play when you put in the first disc, along with a spot for the remastered Scarface (it doesn't reflect well on Universal's double-dipping tactics that a promo for the first release of Scarface was on the double-dip of 2 Fast 2 Furious), and the trailers for the Riddick and Wanted games and the Back to the Future reissues make yet another appearance. Strangely, no trailer for Fast & Furious appears on any of the three "Limited Editions" designed to promote it.
Disc 2 also contains a digital copy for your iPod, PC, laptop, Mac, or other portable device. No theatrical trailer for Tokyo Drift is included. English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided for all the extras aside from Justin Lin's commentary, although on "Drift: A Sideways Craze", they're not presented very well. Universal's goal seems to be to a) place the subtitles away from on-screen text and b) on top of the person speaking. The problem is that the documentary effectively credits the drifters almost every time they appear on screen, so the subtitles often cover the drifter's faces. Obviously it's good to have them, but you'd think there'd be a smoother compromise.
I enjoyed Tokyo Drift this time around, but every time Universal puts out a new movie in the series, they've re-released the films on DVD ("Tricked Out" for 2, a Franchise Collection for Tokyo Drift and these new 2-disc sets for all three in honor of Fast & Furious). Luckily, after two sub-par "Limited Edition" DVDs, this one gets it right, packaging together the existing DVD, a digital copy, and an hour-long documentary that's worth the price of admission alone. Combined with the added value of a free ticket to the new chapter in the series, Tokyo Drift is recommended as the Fast and the Furious film worth double-dipping for.
You can also read my reviews of The Fast and the Furious (2001) - 2-Disc Limited Edition, 2 Fast 2 Furious - 2-Disc Limited Edition and Fast & Furious (2009) - 2-Disc Special Edition here, here and here, respectively.
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