Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Chris Morgan
Starring: Lucas Black, Sung Kang, Bow Wow, Brian Tee, Nathalie Kelley, Sonny Chiba
There’s never just one way of doing things in life as more people get access and the chance to take their own spin on things. Tokyo Drift achieves this in the racing world as it allows an overzealous protagonist to learn some lessons when taking his American way of driving out east. Despite the typical trappings of the franchise, this spin-off captures such pure energy to elevate it towards the top.
Having difficulties staying out of trouble living with his mother, delinquent youth, Sean (Lucas Black) gets sent to live with his father in Tokyo, Japan. Now adapting to this new world, Sean discovers the racing scene here to be quite different from the one back home and must now learn to adapt if he hopes to compete.
Where Tokyo Drift sits in the history of this franchise carries such intrigue. After the successes of the first two films, this third installment detaches itself completely from the original characters and leaves the United States entirely. Instead of following the exploits of O’Conner and Toretto, we instead meet a new protagonist in Sean, who has the same passion for driving and seemingly gets in trouble all the time because of it. Instead of going to juvenile detention for his latest brush up with law enforcement, he gets presented with the opportunity to live with his father in Japan, which seems like the best deal any lawyer has ever brokered. His particular style of racing aligns with what gets displayed in the first two films but he encounters a brand new style called drifting.
Sean serves as the audience gateway into this new style of racing and he, unfortunately, serves as the weakest link of the entire project. Both due to Sean being a fairly bland character and the baffling idea Lucas Black is meant to be a high schooler, the real star of this feature is Tokyo itself. A vibrant culture and metropole showing this series of films will ultimately become the travelling circus of going to different locales and displaying the racing scenes there. With Los Angeles for the first and Miami for the second, Tokyo stands out the most because of the large personalities involved in it all.
Outside of the typical features you can expect from a Fast and Furious film like the male gaze shots of women’s bodies and the burning of rubber, this film stands out because of how effortlessly funny it is. A major component to it this success comes from Twinkie, portrayed by Bow Wow. A hustler all the way through, he has an interest in bringing western products and bling over to Japan and nearly everything he says leaves me in stitches. He serves as a bridge for Sean between American culture and the Japanese seeing as Twinkie has been there for a longer time and has acclimated himself. I’m sure I can quote every line of dialogue Twinkie speaks in this role and he becomes a major part of why this film finds success.
Everything in this film comes in a vacuum where it serves as a spin-off they initially did not think would factor so much with the original characters. The only component that has really stuck around from this feature is Sung Kang as Han and with good reason. He becomes Sean’s true guide in Japan from letting the American drive his vehicle against D.K. (Briant Tee) in the first race and actually teaching him how to drift, Kang makes such a discernible impact on this film. He provides a level of calmness with his demeanor with the threat of being able to take care of anyone in his way if necessary. His incessant chip-eating makes itself prevalent from the very beginning and his role in the feature completely outshines everyone else that they could not resist bringing him back in several other films within the franchise.
With Tokyo Drift being incredibly stylish in its presentation, this serves as Justin Lin’s first foray into the franchise. He navigates this series of films through the lowest point and then helps charge it forward into the zaniness it will eventually become when shifting into pure action movies. This particular film can be seen as the last time this franchise focused primarily on racing as the central means of resolving conflict and it gets shot wonderfully. The way the drifting sequences get captured features the best this franchise has ever had to offer in capturing the difficulty of driving in this manner. It becomes more about skill and just feeling the way the vehicle moves, which makes it incredibly more unique as compared to driving in a straight line faster than your opponent.
Utilizing a killer soundtrack filled with bangers, Tokyo Drift has continued to get better in my estimation and has even climbed up to my second favorite within this franchise. It unapologetically speaks on the power of racing and what it means to win a race. The themes never go too deep, but you must adjust your expectations for the type of story we’re being told here. Endlessly fun in its construction and shows a franchise taking a fun swing with its premise.