Hot take at the start: The opening sequence of 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a better action sequence than any of the action scenes that occur in 2 Fast 2 Furious. There, I said it.
This is the first time I’ve seen the film. I’ve seen all the films in the franchise except this one because it always had the stink of being a quasi-direct-to-DVD sort of film because like the previous film, it’s missing Vin Diesel and now, it’s also missing Paul Walker. Instead, we have a new lead, Lucas Black, who plays Sean Boswell. However, much like 2 Fast 2 Furious, this one introduces us to characters that would become franchise favorites, primarily Han (played by Sung Kang), but also Sean, Twinkie (played by Bow Wow) and Earl (played by Jason Tobin).
But I think people ought to re-visit or discover (if you’re like me and this is your first viewing) Tokyo Drift because it’s pretty darn awesome. It’s also the first time Justin Lin gets to play in the franchise’s sandbox as the director. He’s not quite where he would be with Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6 and F9, but the seeds are here. In fact, Tokyo Drift because of that feels more apiece with the latter films in the franchise than the first two films do.
The premise of this one is that Sean, a high school student — another hilarious casting choice by the franchise since Black at the time would have been 23-ish and looks nothing like a high school student — is constantly getting into trouble because of racing. That’s what happens with the opening sequence I mentioned. He ends up racing the high school jock, Clay (played by Zachery Bryan of Home Improvement fame) in order to “win” Clay’s girlfriend, Cindy (played by Nikki Griffin).
I feel like I could do an entire deep dive research paper on the gender issues in the Fast and Furious franchise. As I’ve noted so far, the first film seemed to subvert expectations, the second film backslid with suggestive dialogue and lewd directorial shots and now, the third film opens with a girl being the “prize” for the winner of a drag race. Eek.
What’s funny is that we expect Sean to be an awesome racer because he’s the lead protagonist here and yet, he has to cheat to beat Clay! Instead of doing the course, he cuts through the housing development to get ahead of Clay! I thought that was weak. Still, the race itself looks awesome and ends in a fun crash of both cars.
After that, Sean’s mother ships him to Tokyo to live with his Navy dad. That’s where Sean encounters Twinkie at the school and the parking garage, drag-racing underworld. The Drift King, or D.K., is Takashi (played by Brian Tee), whose uncle is part of the Yakuza, the Japanese equivalent of the mafia. Takashi is a jerk and his sidekick of sorts is Han, and he has a girlfriend, Neela (played by Nathalie Kelley).
Again, it’s hard to believe that any of these people are in high school.
Once again, like 2 Fast 2 Furious, we get a shoehorned romance where, despite Neela being with somebody else, she starts falling for Sean. That creates tension between Takashi and Sean and Sean challenges the D.K. to a race. Of course, Sean doesn’t know how to drift and gets smoked.
Those scenes are awesome, by the way. I’ve always heard Tokyo Drift derogatively referred to as the movie with “racing in parking garages,” but watching cool cars drift is fun! And it made for great, tense driving here different than anything we’d seen in the prior two films.
Eventually, Sean learns how to drift and we, as viewers, learn that Han isn’t a bad guy. He’s actually stealing from Takashi and is just a chill dude who wants to snack. That’s his whole gimmick. He walks around snacking, all chill. He also greatly helps Sean.
Once Takashi learns that Han is double-crossing him, a wild pursuit through the streets of Tokyo occurs, where we see drifting through a gaggle of people that’s incredible and which leads to Han’s “death.” I put death in quotes because, spoilers, Han is still alive, as we learned in F9. Apparently, Mr. Nobody, the government agent who helps the Fast crew, helped orchestrate Han’s fake death.
But that makes no sense. Why would Han, a high school kid who at that point was affiliated with the Yakuza and wasn’t even much of a racer, be on Mr. Nobody’s radar? And not to mention, that moment where Takashi confronts Han, leading to the hot pursuit in Tokyo, was spontaneous and a surprise. There was no way Mr. Nobody could have anticipated and planned the action thereafter.
Nonetheless, after Han’s death, Sean plays the peacemaker by going to Takashi’s uncle and proposing a way to implement peace: One more race and the loser leaves town. Sean wins, of course. Peace on earth, or at least in Tokyo.
At the end, we get a cameo from Vin Diesel where he challenges Sean, who has become the new D.K. I would love to know who won that race!
One more note, it was nice to see two elements continued all the way through F9: Han explained to Sean in this film that Tokyo was his Mexico in terms of “running for the border.” And when Diesel makes his cameo, we learn that apparently he’s worked with Han before and said Han was “family.” Family is the entire theme of the franchise! So, that was cool.
Overall, I enjoyed Tokyo Drift a lot more than I expected to, given my expectations were around straight-to-DVD-stink and I-don’t-care-about-someone-who-isn’t-Paul-Walker-or-Vin-Diesel. Sean was a good protagonist, even if they should have had him be a college student, and Lin’s action sequences were great table-setting for what was to come.
And to bookend this with another hot take: I will actually say, even without Walker or Diesel, this was a better, more fun film than 2 Fast 2 Furious. Yup.