The cachet that The Fast and the Furious earned when it was released came and went quickly. As I mentioned before, a cultural shift is partially responsible, and the icy reception of 2 Fast 2 Furious basically dropped the franchise under the radar. When your series isn’t being taken seriously anymore do you know what’s a good way to keep it like that? Naming your next entry The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Which is a shame because — despite what Vin Diesel would probably tell you — Tokyo Drift introduced the series to its greatest creative voice.
Justin Lin was the third director in the franchise but he seemed to be the first one who truly knew how to treat the series. Slowly but surely he would shape these films into the superhero films they were destined to be. Lin had the confidence and foresight to build gradually while still maintaining the fun and excitement of a solo entry, an issue that happens with the sometimes commercial-like Marvel Cinematic Universe.
His solid work over these two entries allowed him to achieve what he was able to do in the later films. These ones may not be the best the series has to offer but they’re incredibly important.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is an outlier in the franchise. It has a (practically) all new cast, a different story, and almost no connection to the previous entries. Other than a quick teaser at the end Tokyo Drift is a standalone picture. It’s basically a spin-off in the same universe. It’s like a Catwoman or a Deadpool, but a little closer to the latter in quality.
We’re immediately thrust into a different world, different setting and different style than the previous two films. Our hero, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a high school student — even though he looks about 35 years old, which becomes especially egregious in a later film — which puts us in a different world than we’re used to. Really that doesn’t last long though, because after smashing through a subdivision during a street race he gets shipped off to live with his father in Tokyo.
From that point on Tokyo Drift becomes a pop amalgamation of genres. There’s teen drama, street racing, western and kung fu influences on the movie. Sean is an outsider who comes to a brand new town, stirring up the residents and causing trouble. It’s a storyline that’s familiar in a lot of different types of movies. He could be a gunslinger or a samurai or a wandering superhero. He gets in a classic western showdown before he moves to Japan. Once he’s in Tokyo he learns a new skill from a master and then faces off with the villain, the loser forced to leave town forever.
That’s some classic hero versus villain stuff.
The movie’s villain is Takashi (Brian Tee) who is the current Drift King — ridiculously shortened to DK — of the city. DK is a title that’s passed on, like the Fastest Gun in the West, the Phantom or the Black Panther. It can be won and it gives our hero a goal to work towards. Tokyo Drift is an origin story of mild-mannered Sean Boswell trying to become the superhero, Drift King.
Unfortunately Sean’s probably the least interesting main character in any of the Fast films. Which is fine, because Tokyo Drift is a pretty basic story with some weird and interesting touches that spell out the plans Justin Lin will have for the franchise.
Sean is lucky in other ways though. He gets a sidekick and a mentor and they’re the best of their kind in the franchise. Sean’s mentor is Han Lue (Sung kang) — AKA Han Seoul-Oh — a man who oozes cool. He has a calm demeanor, constantly snacks like he’s a Brad Pitt character, and takes an interest in Sean for no other reason than divine intervention apparently. Kang is just a naturally charismatic guy, making the most interesting character in the series while being given the least amount of material to work with. He’s a character who’s so well-liked that the series bends time and space to bring him back for more movies despite dying in a fiery blaze in this one.
Sean’s sidekick has a simpler appeal. Twinkie (Shad Moss) is a guy who has a Hulk car.
Like, an actual Hulk car.
So by the end of the film Sean has reconnected with his estranged father, mastered the art of drifting, banished Takashi from Tokyo through a Yakuza boss played by Sonny Chiba (a nod to the kung fu flick inspiration) and become the Drift King.
That’s when Tokyo Drift basically busts out it’s “Avengers Initiative” scene two whole years before Iron Man would do the same. The Fast & Furious franchise will continue to make good use of the mid-credit tease that the Marvel Cinematic Universe revels in for the rest of Lin’s time with the series, but Vin Diesel’s Dom showing up to race the Drift King was a hell of a way to start.
The confusingly titled Fast & Furious is Lin’s first outing with the family and you can tell he enjoys it. The opening of the film is the most exciting sequence, with Dom reunited with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and running a new crew that hijacks fuel tankers. The crew includes Tokyo Drift’s Han, Tego and Rico (Tego Calderón and Don Omar, respectively) and the the hijacking is a much more exciting set piece than the transport robberies from the first film. Slightly higher stakes, too.
This entry is a true sequel to The Fast and the Furious, less of a spinoff than the previous two. We catch up with the family: Dom’s crew splits up to lay low for a while and Dom leaves Letty to keep her safe from the danger that follows a walking tank top with a gravelly voice. Brian is now an FBI agent (it’s best not to ask how he went from LAPD officer to fugitive to US Customs informant to FBI agent, just roll with it), Mia (Jordana Brewster) is still living in LA and Letty has been killed. Obviously this last bit of news brings Dom back to LA to seek revenge for his family.
Fast & Furious has two major strikes against it. The first is the CGI sequences. A lot of the fun of the series is actually watching the stunts. When you have cars racing through CGI tunnels it gets a little too disconnected. The second issue is that the story is a little basic and boring. Like I said, the opening sequence with the crew pulling a small heist is the best part of the film, the rest is a basic undercover/revenge flick. Both of those issues are fixed immediately in the next entry, but it does make Fast & Furious feel like a bit of a slump when you’re watching through the series.
On the other hand, the best thing about the movie — besides the family being back — is Paul Walker. This entry wouldn’t be his peak in the franchise but it’s surprising to see the the difference between this Walker and the one from 2 Fast 2 Furious six years prior. His chemistry with Brewster and Diesel is still great but he’s also a believable FBI agent. Whether his acting skills grew or they knew exactly how to tailor the part to his strengths, it’s a big improvement. He also gets to run and fight, giving him a skill-set outside of a car, and Walker excelled at that too. In later entries they’ll lean into that more, proving that Walker is so adept at hand-to-hand fight choreography he’ll end up being believable as an opponent for Tony Jaa. That’s not something I expected from the surfer dude buster in The Fast and the Furious.
This entry tries to be more grounded than the previous two, but it still shows layers of superheroic bombast. Dom apparently has super strength, threatening a man by holding a car’s engine over him with one hand. They fight a henchman literally named Fenix, which is comic book as hell. There’s also a jail break cliffhanger finale, something Captain America: Civil War ended up doing just last year. I’m not saying they copied their ending from Fast & Furious, but I am saying that there are definitely worse films you could steal from.
The films ends with Brian taking the side of the family over the the law. It doesn’t feel like a retread of the ending of the first film because the family isn’t spread to the wind and Brian isn’t just making a gesture. He’s all-in and using Mia, Rico and Tego to rescue Dom from a prison transport.
He’s bringing the family together, something we’ll thank him for when we see the next film.
Important Things The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift Adds to the Franchise
-The Hulk Car (never actually seen again… but still)
Important Things Fast & Furious Adds to the Franchise
-Bending space and time to include Han
-Gisele, Tego & Rico, Braga
-Brian joining the family for good
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: 7 Hulk Cars out of 10
Fast & Furious: 6.5 CGI tunnels out of 10
In Part 3: two truly worthy antagonists and the greatest film of the franchise