F6 – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006 – Justin Lin)

Han

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:

 

  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  6. Fast & Furious
  7. Los Bandoleros
  8. Turbo Charged Prelude

 

Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:

 

The whole bloody film.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. VI

Sequels, prequels and remakes.  One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings.  Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea.  Anyways.  These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.)  No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.

51. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990 – Joe Dante)

 

Sequel to Gremlins (1980 – Joe Dante)

 

Whilst Gremlins is a reasonably entertaining film (the appeal of which is fuelled by Christmas sympathy… I don’t get it, why do people need special films at Christmas?) its sequel is an extraordinarily energetic romp that brings Joe Dante’s manic, animative vision of cinema to the forefront.  Admirably taking aim at corporate cruelty, it features a typically charming performance from Christopher Lee.  Now some the puppet related gags can seem a little trashy, but there is an energy, a sense of anything-could-happen that is so rare, it’s impossible not to get engrossed in the movie.

52. Batman Returns (1992 – Tim Burton)

 

Sequel to Batman (1989 – Tim Burton)

 

Back in the day we would get annoyed by this film.  “Burton doesn’t get Batman,” we would wail and moan.  But the kink of this movie combined with the genuine interest in exploring the psyches of the freaks who choose to dress as animals rather than attend therapy is a delight in the face of the monotonous, focus-grouped fan-service that passes for superhero films nowadays.  Never again would these movies feature such bold set-design, unhinged performances and dance routines.  And sex.  Superheroes should all be about sex, so concerned are these individuals with their bodies… but no… Ant-Man doesn’t fuck.  Put the leather back on Bruce.  We need to see it.

53. Batman Begins (2005 – Christopher Nolan)

 

Reboot of the Batman film series

 

I remember taking respite in an air-conditioned cinema on one of the hottest days of the year and watching this film.  It was the first time that I truly realised that I lived in the era of DVDs and that I would be able to watch this film again and again.  In retrospect, I should have been more aware that choosing to be in a cinema on my own on a beautiful day was the start of a lifetime of solitude (but the things I’ve seen in those darkened halls…).  I think I’ve only watched the film once or twice since, and the fight scenes are nominal at best, but the sincerity of the performances from a tremendously talented bunch of actors ensure that this film has an appeal beyond those around it.

It was followed by two sequels – The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – which continued the trend of very talented actors being super serious within constantly shifting aspect ratios.  Screen-writing was transformed forever as subtext became text and every theme of the movie was announced by the cast.  At length, on boats, surrounded by TNT.

54. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016 – Zack Snyder)

 

Sequel to Man of Steel (2013 – Zack Snyder)

 

After nearly thirty years of making these movies, you’d get a headache if you tried to work out the relationship of all these Batman and Superman movies.  Ostensibly this film is a sequel to Man of Steel (itself a reboot of the Superman franchise, that came after the failure of Superman Returns (2006 – Bryan Singer) which was a sequel to Superman II (1980 – Richard Lester) that ignored Superman III (1983 – Richard Lester)).  On the Batman front, it is in part a reboot of the character, but could equally be seen as a spiritual sequel to the Nolan Batman films (which were a reboot of the Burton/Schumacher series).  The film also seeks to launch a whole bunch of other superheroes ahead of the forthcoming Wonder Woman (2017 – Patty Jenkins) and Justice League (2017 – Zack Snyder) films.

 

Which is to say that there is a lot going on here.

Man of Steel had an appealingly direct sense of character with heavy Christ overtones and a radical aesthetic that presented fight scenes that had the dynamism of a video game.  It took an interesting approach to the central character, bringing him into the new millennium.  Raised by American farmers, Superman could no longer believe in altruism and selflessness, instead, he was a figure of confused, roaming morals.  He had no recognisable ‘truth, justice or American way’ to follow.  Batman v Superman continued this exploration, working with characters who could only fin redemption in violence.  The film is a mess, but it is a glorious, visionary mess where nightmares play as extended IMAX fight scenes set in Apocalyptic futures.  Male bodies are presented simultaneously as cattle and objects of desire.  And Jeremy Irons plays Alfred as freakish pervert.  What’s not to love?

 

55. Superman III (1983 – Richard Lester)

 

Third in the Superman film series

 

Part of the appeal of writing about all these film series is how growing up, you are presented with the received wisdom of which ones are good and which ones are bad.  And how as an adult, you are able to challenge and deny these presumptions.  Nerds have a tendency to regulate and determine the source text that they are so deeply in love with.  ‘Richard Donner was a good director whose vision was denied by the very silly Richard Lester,’ we are told, as if this opinion was scripture itself.  It is, of course, nonsense.  Lester had the good sense to believe that costumes and effects and even superheroes themselves are ridiculous, and the best special effect a move can have is an actor.  Richard Pryor is a better special effect than all of these ruddy superhero films put together.  He’s more energetic, more entertaining and more endearing than any guardian of any galaxy.  The nerds didn’t deserve him.

 

56. Friday the 13th Part VI – Jason Lives (1986 – Tom McLoughlin)

 

Sixth in the Friday the 13th film series

 

The Friday the 13th films are from the start, virtually worthless.  They are misogynistic, anti-disability and woefully acted.  They trade in half-remembered Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock) moments, all gratuitous shower scenes and screeching violin strings.  They can feature grisly, inventive kills, but some of them don’t even feature that (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985 – Danny Steinmann) is a particularly egregious example of this.)

And then along comes the sixth entry in the series, and finally, finally, the films have some wit.  It plays as a pure vision of what these films could be – meaningful kills, deliberate, widescreen composition, and ninety minutes of pure terror.  This is a film where two children can cower under a bed, knowing they are going to be murdered and joke about what they were going to be when they grew up… and it not destroy or damage or pull you out from the narrative of the film.  It is masterful in that regard.  And this film features an extraordinarily good Alice Cooper song over the closing credits.

 

57. The Wolverine (2013 – James Mangold)

 

Sixth in the X-Men film series

The X-Men films feel as if they come from a whole other world, such is the emphasis on geographically coherent fight scenes and black leather alien to today’s films of yellow spandex and incoherence.  They have a tendency towards messiness, each film rewriting over previous entries.  What isn’t always understood is that the appeal of cinema is not down to which minutely-differentiated hero is on screen, it is who is playing them, and at least Hugh Jackman has some charisma in the face of the multitude of bland Chrises that populate this films.  Combined with decent fight scenes and a rare, non-offensive approach to location and local populace, The Wolverine is a worthwhile watch, in a largely worthless film series (though I do hold a modicum of nostalgic affection for X-Men (2000 – Bryan Singer) and X2 (2003 – Bryan Singer)).

 

58. Kill Bill vol. 2 (2004 – Quentin Tarantino)

 

Sequel to Kill Bill vol. 1 (2003 – Quentin Tarantino)

 

I know that Tarantino claims they’re one film, but I had to pay twice, so…  Moving away from the forward momentum of the first film, this second half goes deeper into Tarantino’s novelistic approach to cinema, backwards, forwards, sideways into the lives of the people on screen.  It takes a less elegant approach to violence, eschewing the stylised choreography of the first entry for brutal street-fighting messiness.  It’s as if The Bride is exhausted by the task she has undertaken, and the catharsis of her revenge is destroying every inch of her physicality.  Plus, it has an ‘amazing buried’ alive sequence.

59. Fast Five (2011 – Justin Lin)

 

Fifth in The Fast and the Furious film series

Quietly, The Fast and the Furious films have become some of the most exciting action films in the world.  From auspicious Point Break (1991 – Kathryn Bigelow) rip-off beginnings, that was followed by dull, barely rising above DTV sequels, it has become a series of physically-grounded, culturally vibrant action films.  Fast Five is the most exciting entry in the series, where any pretence of street racing has been shrugged off for a dynamic heist film, and the addition of Dwayne Johnson provides some much needed compulsion to a series that has not exactly been drowning in star power.

60. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986 – Tobe Hooper)

 

Sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974 – Tobe Hooper)

Look, the truth is that for many of these film series the initial entry is a masterpiece, which is followed by a series of increasingly desperate cash-ins.  The Texas Chain Saw/Chainsaw series is utterly indicative of this trend.  Admirably, this film doesn’t try to repeat any of the appeal of the first film, instead choosing to be the darkest of comedies.  It’s as if the terror of the first film is so horrible to revisit we can only find catharsis in humour.  The original entry was full of surprising beauty, and this film can’t play the same trick again, so every square inch of scenery and performance is twisted and vile.  If you eat that much meat, you start to become all the people within you.  Simultaneously.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990 – Jeff Burr) is a surprisingly effective piece of filmmaking, but from then on, the films struggle to amount to anything.