Well, we might as well deal with the big question first… ‘Does watching The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift after Fast & Furious 6 work?’ Because, the nerdy side of me that loves the oppressive continuity of ongoing film series adores the fact that this film is chronologically set later than when it was made. And it’s easy to see why Lin became enamoured with the charm of Sung Kang’s performance, and sought to place a murdered character back into the series. It’s perhaps the ultimate act of repositioning that the series makes; essentially watching the films in this order re-orientates this film around Han rather than the nominal protagonist of Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell.
Which is an interesting choice, and Kang is a more engaging performer than Boswell. But… whilst a generous reading of the film can characterise Han’s return to street racing as the act of a man returning to a simple life in the face of trauma, there is little in his performance that convinces us that he is coping with the loss of Giselle. And there’s no real understanding of why he is hanging around with a bunch of kids. And the (at the time, fan-service) street-racing cameo of Dom Toretto is impossible to read as a man hunting down the villainous Deckard Shaw. Watching Tokyo Drift in this position can only be seen as a waste of potentially worthwhile emotional capital, and a severe scale-back of dynamic action set pieces.
Which is not to say it’s a bad film. On the contrary, much of Tokyo Drift reinforces the essential themes of the series. Sean Boswell is a true hero in that he comes from poverty, and his shit-eating grin identifies him as a charming irritant to those in power. There are some extraordinarily good car chase scenes, including a wonderful moment where an entire crowd of hundreds of people scatter as Boswell’s car ploughs through a metropolitan crossroad, and whilst there is some visually dated use of computer-aided morphing during these chases scenes, they are grounded in a physicality that Lin would reject in his next entry in the series, Fast & Furious. But the tendency to refer to this entry as almost a direct-to-video film is unwarranted, such is the strong central narrative of a man escaping a toxic Southern American culture to find acceptance in others and himself.
But some of Lin’s problems sneak back into the series. Women are objectified (quite literally, when they are awarded as prizes in the aforementioned races), and there is a distasteful proclivity to frame many of the scenes as a ‘look-at-what-these-funny-Japanese-people-do’ that is reminiscent of Lost in Translation (2003 – Sofia Coppola). Other aspects of the film seem incongruous; Lil’ Bow Wow’s (another rapper) car is appallingly gauche, and there is an amusing moment where ‘Timberlake’ is used as an insult, which somewhat dates the film (even if we know, deep-down, that Timberlake can never be a compliment).
In retrospect, it’s better to watch this film series in production order, rather than chronological order. There’s a charm in seeing a franchise return to its small-scale roots after seeing jumbo-jets crash and burn, but whilst the film reinforces the theme of finding a constructed family in the world, it lacks the wide cast of characters that have rooted the franchise so well. The series has been steadily escalating its action sequences, and watching this film in this position can only be a disappointment. Watched with a contemporaneous 2006 mindset, it’s a movie where a franchise is trying to find new stars (Lucas Black and Sung Kang) and reassert Vin Diesel as the creative mastermind of the series, after he was effectively side-lined in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Some of these threads were followed, some were rejected, and it is a fundamentally enjoyable film, but there’s no point watching it looking for a development of Han’s character in response to the loss of Giselle; the emotional content just isn’t there, and that can only be a disappointment.
Fast & Furious rankings:
- Fast & Furious 6
- Fast Five
- The Fast and the Furious
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- Fast & Furious
- Los Bandoleros
- Turbo Charged Prelude
Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:
The whole bloody film.