Commentary by Michael Lee (June 2006)|
A lot of detractors have been saying that Tokyo Drift, the third installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise, doesn't have a shot at being any good without Vin Diesel or Paul Walker headlining. Wow...really? The last time I checked, these flicks were all about fast women and faster cars. Can't you pretty much accomplish that with or without those guys? The added element of the Tokyo scene should inject more than enough life into the series. Tokyo has always visually struck me as a "New York night life meets Las Vegas neon" sort of fantasy world, and it seems like an ideal setting for underground racing. Cockfights? Not so much. But underground racing? Sure.
That brings us to the second element new to the mix: drifting. I had the opportunity to catch a drift racing exhibition at Southern California's Irwindale Speedway, and the experience was educational. Not only did I get to check out a car that was rebuilt to the point of being more stereo system than car (which for some reason reminded me of the Obi-Wan Kenobi quote describing Darth Vader, "He's more machine now than man, twisted and evil"), but I also got to see what the deal was with this drifting business. Basically, racers cruising around in lightweight, modified vehicles build up speed and lose traction going into turns, thereby making it look like the rear of the car is spinning out of control and causing a "drifting" effect. If you want a more detailed, accurate, or just plain coherent explanation about the science of the sport, visit this article.
With drifting's lack of emphasis on raw speed, I initially had doubts about how exciting it could be as the basis for a movie. These guys cruise around 80-odd miles per hour, a far cry from the 200 miles per hour their NASCAR counterparts can hit. But after watching a few races, it was clear style counted for something, and the thrill was in watching two cars cut each other off and come dangerously close to colliding, all while they seemingly had no control over their rear wheels. Close calls were the norm, and car parts occasionally flew off. Add a soundtrack and some low angle camera shots to that, and it was clear this formula could easily translate to the big screen.
Granted, the film will no doubt take a few liberties in the name of adrenaline. Faster speeds, more collisions, and lots of chicks slinking around on tricked out cars seem both necessary and inevitable. But purists who can't live with that kind of movie doctoring are like fanboys whining about their favorite superhero being revamped for the screen. And don't we already have enough of that?