In anticipation of April’s release of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the The Fast and the Furious franchise, CineFiles is taking a retrospective look back on all of the series’ films. In this edition, we look at the third entry into the series (but the sixth film chronologically?), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is widely considered the black sheep of the now incredibly successful Fast & Furious franchise. This is due mainly to the film’s tangential narrative from what has essentially become a testosterone-infused soap opera.
But let’s not judge a book by its preconceived notions.
Tokyo Drift opens on a car race over the ownership of a woman. So…it’s not looking good so far. Unlike the previous two Fast & Furious films, however, this opening race plays out differently. It is edited in different styles. It plays out with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. And it ends in a wreck. For all intents and purposes, this film opens fresh compared to the two previous films.
The result of this race is that our new hero Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is sent to Tokyo by his mother after multiple run-ins with the law threaten to put him in jail in the United States.
What remains consistent through Tokyo Drift is a few key things: poor gender politics and an arrogant Western protagonist who swoops in and becomes a hero.
These Hollywoodized stereotypes aside, Tokyo Drift offers the Fast & Furious franchise something that is hard to find elsewhere: a fallible protagonist. Every other Fast & Furious character that we are asked to root for is flawless and always wins. That, or they flub up just enough that they can be labeled a comic relief character.
In Tokyo Drift, Sean loses. He struggles from the onset to prove himself. His family worries about him when he acts recklessly. He loses races because he doesn’t understand the racing culture. There are genuine narrative stakes because we want to see this character succeed where he has previously failed. In other Fast films, we expect all of the characters to succeed because they have succeeded every other time previous.
Tokyo Drift is a fish out of water tale in some racially insensitive ways. But in one reading this is only done in order to paint the white protagonist’s arrogance as a fatal flaw. He needs to learn to survive with the help of others, and he needs to do this by first being completely ostracized. The thematics aren’t deep, but at least the protagonist has something to prove, something that can’t be found in other movies in the franchise.
To be fair, there isn’t much to this film in terms of narrative or acting prowess. Lucas Black does fine in the title role, but he lacks the dynamic connection with other characters that are found within the crew of later Fast & Furious films. Even Vin Diesel is able to show an ounce of emotion through his slurred speech. Black struggles to do the same.
Here we have Black and Bow Wow trying to recreate Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson’s charismatic exchanges in 2 Fast 2 Furious, to disastrous results. At least Sung Kang is able to bring some sort of acting skill as the film’s mentor figure.
There is a reason why Justin Lin has directed multiple Fast & Furious films. He knows how to direct clean racing action. Here, he shows a good handling of scope both within and without the race parameters. There is an energy to the film that makes the whole thing feel lighter, even when the acting drags and the story’s apparent lack of depth becomes, well, apparent.
As a guilty pleasure film—what this retrospective series is basing its grades on—Tokyo Drift succeeds where the two previous installments did not. It is a film that, when taken seriously, is lacking in almost every area. But unlike the first two Fast & Furious films, you do not need to take it seriously in order to engage with the plot. The plot means just little enough and is just outlandish enough to become an unintentional guilty pleasure narrative.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)