Director: Justin Lin
So now the franchise just feels like it's going all over the place, leaving the sunny Miami and streets of LA for the neon stripped Tokyo. There's no Walker this time either, and, *SPOILER ALERT* only a last minute cameo of Diesel who was only brought in for reshoots to help boost the box office after disappointing test audiences. It was part of a deal with universal too, and not because he wanted to. Diesel only agreed to the uncredited cameo if Universal released the rights to Riddick allowing Diesel free reign over the Furion.
I think at first release, this film suffered by being perceived as a weak spin-off which didn't related to any of the La Familia in any way and probably gained more respect after the following films were made and released. But in essence, it is, by trademark, a Fast and Furious film. It's got the cars, the underground street racing community, a brilliant soundtrack and of course, a rapper among the casting in the form of Bow Wow. (We now call him Shad Moss, it appears he's out grown of Bow Wow at last).
It's the introduction of the character of Han and sadly his exit, being the first of the Fast and Furious films to show the real danger of street racing on public roads. It's also the first of Justin Lin's creative input as Fast and Furious director and being the first of the films not written by Gary Scott Thompson. Lin will now stay for the ride right up to and including number 6 of the franchise.
Our protagonist is Southern accented, older-than-teen-looking Sean Boswell. A high school kid who can't seem to stay out of trouble no matter where he goes. Having been moved from school to school, he's exiled to Tokyo to live with his father or face state penitentiary. Played by Lucas Black, he's quite the unlikely hero or star to be a front man for the Fast franchise. A bold move by the studios, by you know what, even with that annoying accent, he pulls it off.
He teams up with local all round cool guy, Bow Wow and of course winds up in trouble with the wrong crowd but gets looked after by Han (Sung Kang) an enigmatic hustler who runs with the street racers and this is where the film shifts up a gear showing that racing around streets has a lot more to offer than nitro boosts and swift gear changes. It's about going around corners in style which is pretty much a good analogy for the entire film.
Not even Sung Kang was a name back then with only Bow Wow and the legendary Sonny Chiba to bolster the cast. Brian Tee does a good antagonist but feels like Yune's twin brother from the first film and Kelley provides a decent-enough love interest for the film even if a little corny.
This premise sets up a good platform for some great action, some street racing seldom seen before on the big screen and Lin does a brilliant job of rekindling the coolness. I can safely assume this film really cried out to fans of Need for Speed: Underground gamers of the world, myself being one of them, it really did make me want to pick up the controller and race in my neon stripped, Carbon-fibre skyline again.
Talking about the cars, there's massive product placement here with manufacturers donating wheels from Rays Engineering and tyres from Toyo with even VW donating four prototype R32s. I think it's the first time we see Pure Vision Design's 1970 Plymouth Road Runner too. It's also the first Fast film where we see the two styles merge, the forging of Japanese engineering and American muscle. There's a part of me that wanted Tom Cruise's Japanese sword engraving on the side of the car "I belong to the warrior in whom the old ways have joined the new." From The Last Samurai.
Diesel isn't the only cameo appearance in the film and it's hard to not expect or even guess who, if you weren't in the know, but American drifting racer Rhys Millens and Japan's real drift king, Keiichi Tsuchiya both appear; Tsuchiya twice, as the disapproving to then impressed fisherman and as a pornstar.
Great soundtrack again with Pharrell Williams producing much of the album with tracks like N.E.R.D.S' "She Wants To Move", and Teriyaki Boy's "Tokyo Drift" which is the film's main anthem. You can listen to my Fast and Furious playlist here.
When comparing this to the rest of the franchise, or ranking them, I actually put this one high up the chart. Whilst, at the time of release it didn't relate to the other movies and had the lowest opening box office figures of the franchise, it has all the key elements of a Fast and Furious film and actually has some of he best racing out of all of them. Now, it no longer feels too far from the core story and we can expect to see Sean Boswell make an appearance in the new films.
Up next: Fast & Furious
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 0
Would I buy the Blu-ray?: Already do.