The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is very fun.

It’s also completely superfluous to the series.

If I was confused about who all of those people were in 2 Fast 2 Furious, imagine me at the start of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Who the hell is this Sean guy? Why are we in a high school? And what does Brad from Home Improvement have to do with any of it?

But after the fairly dismal 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift is a nice refresher to the series. You might say that it got me back on… track. Haha. Actually that pun doesn’t work at all because this is all about drifting.

Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a high school street racer who gets arrested after a catastrophic race against school rival Clay (Brad from Home Improvement). To avoid jail, he’s sent to live with his father in Tokyo.

There, as soon as he gets a chance, Sean finds a new racing scene — drifting. He enters his first race, up against Takashi (Brian Lee) who has links to Yakuza. To enter Sean borrowa a car from Han Lue (Sung Lang), a business partner of Takashi. Sean ends up totalling the car because he can’t drift.

Sean ends up working and then befriending Han, and Han teaches Sean how to drift so he can take on Takashi. Sean dates Takashi’s ex-girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley) and Takashi gets beaten to a pulp. Sean isn’t making many friends. It’s a new country mate, settle in, have some ramen, play a bit of pachinko. You don’t need to total a car and steal a Yakuza’s girlfriend in what appears to be your first week.

But before long, the Yakuza get involved. Han is accused of stealing from Takashi and the Yakuza, and is killed. Sean must beat Takashi in a race, square things off with the mob, and get the girl, hopefully before the credits roll.

Hi, I’m the bad guy.

The shift in location does a lot to make the movie feel fresh. I love that we see a very different side of Tokyo. Having visited the city, and having been shown around by locals, I can attest that Tokyo isn’t all the tourist-friendly wonderland you see on the main streets. The insult slung at Sean, “Gaijin”, is very real, and something you might hear sneered under breath if you go off the beaten path. Of course getting away from the glossy tourist wonderland is why you go off the beaten path.

The side we see isn’t all “Yakuza-ish” either. Nor martial arts, nor steeped in a lot of tradition. It’s pachinko parlours and small hotels and run down side streets branching off neon-bathed bustling main streets. It’s a very different perspective from what we’re used to in movies.

It was also directed by Justin Lin, who would go on to direct the lion’s share of the franchise. Lin has an eye for action, and knows not to overplay or stretch out a scene. Something that was a problem in the previous two instalments — a race is a race, there are only so many times you can show one car being in front of another before it starts to get dull. Whereas drifting is perfect, because the races are boiled down to a couple of key moments.

I didn’t find Sean to be a particularly good character. Partly because Lucas Black just isn’t as compelling as the previous leads of the series. But also because the character is a brat kid, not an undercover cop or a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks. Really he was just a jerk in the US, then was flown to Tokyo where he kept being a jerk until he became the new “Drift King” and then everyone had to like him. He’s just a self-involved kid with no stakes of his own. So why is he the “hero” of the movie?

There’s an insane scene where Sean’s father confronts him, telling him that he’s going to send him back home. Sean says “I have to do this” and his father nods and gives him a car. Wait, what? Sean’s friend died, he’s been beaten up, he’s illegally street racing, and he’s mixed up in the Yakuza. But the father says “I guess you have to prove something” and gives him a car to race. No! Send the dumb kid to juvie!

What really makes the movie is the supporting cast. Brian Lee is straight out of a manga comic as the villainous Takashi, constantly glowering, sneering, and grinning in a devilishly off-putting way. Sung Kang plays the cool, calm, and collected Han well. And who turns up as Kamata, head of the Yakuza and Takashi’s uncle? Only bloody film legend Sonny Chiba. Awesome!

I enjoyed Tokyo Drift about as much as the first movie. But it’s still an odd watch, because it doesn’t have any ties to the other two films. Well, apart from one. At the very end of the movie, when Sean is at a drift meetup enjoying his life as the new Drift King, he’s challenged by some “new driver” who says that he knew Han. I let out an audible ooooooooh sheeeeit. It was Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto. Back. After missing the previous movie.

Bring on Fast & Furious.

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