Sunday, June 18, 2006

Initial D

Review by Michael Jaffe

Initial D is a phenomenon is asia with the anime series and the manga books. The writing and the capturing of the drifting car culture combined with interesting characters made for a guaranteed winner. Now look at the team of writers and directors behind the Infernal affairs trilogy, one of the best and highest grossing film series to come out of Hong Kong in a while. Put these two separate yet equally awesome entities together and you get Initial D, the film experience. Neither the source material nor the film makers made any mistakes in getting this incredibly unique and exhilarating film experience to the screen. Simply put, Initial D is one of my favorite movies already because its combination of jaw dropping race scenes, funny ass dialogue, great acting and best of all, inspiring directing all came together in perfect unity.
The plot has tofu delivery boy Takumi, who has grown up driving fast on the curves of Japan’s greatest mountain. As Takumi sleeps (actually sleeps) through high speed, daring races on the mountain, he gains fame and notoriety and eventually begins racing other champions. The plot is kind of bazaar and remarkably simple, but the characters and the cars keep you fully locked and honed in on the movie for the entire run time. The actors are all familiar to fans of Hong Kong Cinema, and for anyone who has seen Infernal Affairs; many faces will look familiar to you. The actors all play their roles extremely well; especially Anthony Wong who plays Bunta, Takumi’s drunken, comedic father perfectly, frequently making one liners that caused the audience to roar with laughter. The writing of the film is very odd and quirky, but at no point does it not cause you to groan because it is simply so stupid. Occasionally lines are so hokey that a chuckle is required, but based on the writer’s previous credits, the probably put in the cheesy lines just to get laughs, and they achieve their goal remarkably well.
The race scenes though are the real star of the film as with not a hint of CGI through most of the driving sequences, I found myself actually moving my hands like I was steering and shifting along with the characters on screen I was so sucked into the experience of the movie. For car buffs, the races aren’t between super charger American muscle cars like we see in Fast and the Furious, but who car handle better, the GTR or the AE86. The racing sequences at night on the curvy mountain roads are truly poetry in motion as the drivers, at least the good ones, drift smoothly, with no bumps around curves at intense speeds.
As either a car geek, or just a movie lover, Initial D will thouroughly entertain you and make you want to see more. I saw this at a film festival, so I don’t know about a mainstream, US theatre run, but it is out on DVD in the states and I highly recommend you pick it up now. 9/10

Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Review by Michael Jaffe

In the Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the plot is a lot more like NASCAR than the exciting and visually stimulating badassery that is drift racing. In FFTD, one of the better chase scenes I have seen, where four cars weave in and out of Tokyo traffic. Director Justin Lin uses the scenery of Tokyo to make the chase scenes not only exciting, but they are one of the rare bright spots in this highly predictable, wannabe macho flick. The plot is probably as run of the mill as they come where a outcast in Texas is shipped to live with his dead beat army dad in Tokyo to escape prosecution in the states. As far as flawed logic goes, this is ridiculous as the main character, Shawn, is allowed to flee the country after causing massive property damage in an exhilarating race scene at the movies beginning.
At least the races are fun to watch, because that is the only part of the movie that are worth watching. Once Shawn gets to Tokyo, his father tells him to stay away from cars, but immediately Shawn’s new friend Twinkie throws him into the world of Tokyo’s underground drift racing. The story that follows has no real twists or turns and simply goes thought the motions. This really disappointed me as I thought that Justin Lin would bring new life to the series, and he has, but not to the story line. The writing lags at points and doesn’t really spice anything up. The actors don’t really seem at fault; even Bow Wow does an OK job with the material handed to him. Lucas Black, who I thought was a rising star, hits hopefully what is a brief low in his career as I had really liked his performances is Jarhead and especially Crazy in Alabama. Sung Kang as the man who befriends Shawn and takes him into the world of drift racing goes to the Brad Pitt school of cool and constantly is eating and fiddling with stuff in his mouth and surprisingly is a highpoint of the film and the only character who provides not only emotion, but the crowds cheers.
The film really does its best when the drivers are behind the wheels of the cars, spinning and grooving to a surprisingly decent, albeit repetitive, soundtrack. Also, Director Lin’s use of the Japan location really brings new life into scenes that would otherwise be boring, but instead there is a lot of cool scenery to look at. The race at Mt. Akina is pretty good. The cameo by Sonny Chiba is pretty good as he just jokes his way through three scenes, not really caring and playing it fairly tongue in cheek, Reynolds style.
Compared to the other FF movies, it is maybe on par with the first one which I recently re-viewed and liked a lot for the races and macho attitudes carried by the stars, and FFTD is much better than 2F2F which was pretty much a homoerotic joke. But FF:Tokyo Drift is a completely different animal that really shouldn’t be considered part of the seires as it isn’t about the macho bull shit, but how people feel, which might have worked if the critical flaw of the movie trying to be macho, but falling far short in the manly category. As a separate movie though, it was a half decent, somewhat enjoyable time at the movies. 6/10

P.S. For someone looking for a better race movie, that has tons of funny movies, intentional or not but still some great racing scenes, I recommend Initial D (review coming real soon!), which is now out on DVD in the states. It is what Tokyo Drift should’ve been.

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