• Prof. James O'Flannery

Octo-Reviews: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Note: After consultation with the owner/editor of this internet publication, he has consented to an additional lecture series of mine entitled "Octo-Reviews" (because I am over 80 years old and review things and that is supposed to be funny), in which I dispense my insightful, hopefully delightful, opinions on the world of film, leisure, and the arts. Please enjoy.


Wow, look at that, a video with the face of Vincent Diesel replaced with my own. What a splendid waste of time that must have been for the creator of the video to help promote my review. Absolute drivel, if you ask me.


ON to my review - it’s a damn shame that my favorite film of all time, The Molly Maguires (1970), is no longer in print - and since Hollywood is run by card-carrying commie scum these days, it is unlikely to become available anytime soon.


So, what to watch while we wait for the nation to recover its senses and end this pusillanimous lock-down melodrama?


The greatest "stand-alone" film.

Thankfully, my grandson (of all people) has ridden to the rescue. He brought over a number of movies for myself and Gladys – all on VHS, of course, the correct format – and one of them turned out to be a little gem by the name of The Fast and the Furious (2001).


By itself, the movie's decent enough. Paul Walker stars as Brian, an FBI agent who must infiltrate a gang of street-racing thieves led by Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel. It’s essentially Point Break but with gear-heads instead of surfers. A pleasant little caper, with some exciting action, a few memorable lines, and a satisfying (if predictable) ending.


I admit I was intrigued enough to give the sequel a go, but what a stinking pile of balderdash that turned out to be. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) is simply a wretched film, and the less said about it, the better.


Frankly, I was just about finished with the series, when I noticed one last video cassette at the bottom of the box. When I saw the title, I almost threw it away, but curiosity (and a desire to avoid my wife) got the better of me. So, I popped it into the VCR deck, rewound it to the appropriate beginning, and ensconced myself in Old Hickory, my trusty recliner.


Little did I know I was about to have my fragile mind blown to pieces.


Citizen Kane - but with drifting, that is my one line takeway.

This is it. This is the masterpiece that shattered the very bounds of cinema. From Tokyo Drift onward, the Fast and the Furious Saga transmogrified itself from a halfway forgettable action series into a majestic, challenging, radically new art-form. The Fast and the Furious “phenomenon” – as we should properly call it – transcends the static medium of film and involves we the audience as part of its ongoing metaphysical exploration.


People perhaps puzzled by this high praise might say to themselves, “But I don’t get it. It’s just a stupid action movie. My kid could write that.” To such lowbrow peons, I say this: Could your child splatter paint across a canvas like Jackson Pollock? Perhaps. Could they sell one for millions of dollars? No. No, they couldn’t.


A window into the transcendental dialectic between "fast" and "furious".

The saga boldly upends every one of our epistemological assumptions. A declining action series shouldn’t grow more popular over time, and yet this one does. Sequels should portray events occurring after the previous films, and yet this one doesn’t. Everything you think you know about reality is brought into question. Time and space. Life and death. These seemingly permanent fixtures of human experience are compressed and contorted until they lose all meaning.


In this surreal art-form, characters are no longer characters in the traditional sense. They exist both inside and outside time. They can die, return from life, become the villain, become the hero again – sometimes in the same film, sometimes across several films. They are not so much characters as they are representations of vast cosmological forces.


Plato and Aristotle argue the "permanence" of NOS.

Hence, the actors are not “portraying” characters, they are “inhabiting” eternal metaphysical planes far beyond the limits of human comprehension. For example, Paul Walker’s character survives a high-speed car crash at the end of the seventh film. But Paul Walker the man dies in a high-speed car crash before the start of the seventh film. Which is real and which is fictional? Which of them has died and which of them yet lives? Was there, in a sense, ever a Paul Walker? Am I Paul Walker? Are you Paul Walker?


Such can be the staggering implications of contemplating High Art.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I probably should cover the plot of Tokyo Drift first – although the concept of “plot” is ludicrously imprecise when applied to these films. Tokyo Drift deviates from its predecessors by moving the action from the big broad streets of Los Angeles to the tiny thin streets of Tokyo. The cars, women and portions are smaller now, which takes some adjustment, but this is all part of the film’s clever distortion of perception.


Sean and Twinkie, the narrative dyad.

Enter Sean, played by Lucas Black, the world’s only known 32-year-old teenager. He and his countryman Twinkie, played by something called a “Bow Wow”, are both Navy brats stuck in Japan while their fathers gloriously serve our nation – the FF Saga, in a truly brave and unexpected turn, does not shy away from patriotism.


The story really kicks off once Twinkie pulls Sean into the underground world of Tokyo street-racing. This time, emphasis is placed on skill and maneuver rather than pure power and speed. Subverting our expectations, the big dumb American proves himself exceptionally adroit at the style, especially the technique of “drifting”, throwing the clutch down and pulling the handbrake to fishtail around tight corners.


However, things go ill quickly when Sean runs afoul of Takashi (Brian Tee) the reigning “Drift King” and henceforth referred to as “DK”. DK is connected to the nefarious Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate and has a bone to pick with Sean after the latter accidentally wrecks his car.


Han, in ephemeral form.

Enter Han, the corporeal manifestation of fate, and without a doubt my favorite “character” of the series. Played masterfully by Sung Kang, Han takes Sean under his wing and reveals to him the secret mystical meaning behind "drifting". Han is also provided with several cars and an auto-repair shop (all without any explanation whatsoever).


I should like to mention that at this point the film is literally just drifting along. The scenes lack the energy and emotion of the first and third acts, but this is clearly intentional, as the masterminds behind this brilliant film wish to synchronize the quality of the movie with the dullest and most insipid parts of the story. And yet, this parallel resonance elevates the film beyond a mere “good movie” and launches it into the realm of the avant-garde.


Then disaster strikes. Han, the personification of fate, is compelled to sacrifice himself to save his friend and pupil. While on the run from DK, Han causes a diversion which results in his car being struck at an intersection. He does so with a haunting smile – footage that is ingeniously reused over and over again during the climax of the film – and is absorbed into the ether.


Sung Kang's perfectly detached expressions almost suggests he has no desire to be in the film at all.

Believe it or not, this moment will become a nexus for future intersecting timelines throughout the series. But for now, the filmmakers treat the death of Han in a misleadingly understated manner. Their sleight-of-hand is so successful, one might easily conclude they hadn’t intended Han’s death to become so crucial in the first place!


In its finale, after having stripped away the entirety of our logical foundations, Tokyo Drift pulls a complete U-turn and ends in a fairly conventional manner. Sean challenges DK to a death-defying race down a mountain, pitting Sean’s father’s ’67 Mustang (modified for drifting) against DK’s uncle’s Nissan 350Z (on loan from the Yakuza).


An inverted dissimulation of situational irony.

By this point, the viewer has been so bombarded by surreal inversion after surreal inversion that it is truly shocking when Sean overcomes all obstacles to win the race. The “hero saves the day” trope is once again refreshing against this backdrop.


Sean earns the title of Drift King, whereas the old DK, the personification of pride, drives off the mountain (and almost certainly is annihilated by the ravenous void). This changing of the guard is signaled by Neela (Nathaline Kelley), the girlfriend of Old DK, becoming the girlfriend of New DK – a subtle nod to the traditional practice of Japanese nobility.


But Tokyo Drift has one more twist in store, when the sheer power of its artistic gravity teleports Vin Diesel out of Hollywood and into the absurdist fantasyland of the FF Saga.


A striking glimpse of revelatory dramatic irony.

Disguised as his alter ego, Dominic Toretto, Vin Diesel informs Sean that he and Han “go way back” and that he has come to honor his memory. At this point, the audience is unsure whether they are watching Vin Diesel the “actor” collecting a quick paycheck, or Dominic Toretto the “character” earnestly participating in the critical deconstruction of the mythical hero's journey.


The film boldly ends leaving our greatest question unanswered. And yet, this is all part of the art-form that is the Fast and the Furious. It is the gaps between films that, in a way, unsettle us the most, since they invite us to question ourselves and everything around us.


The audience realizing their complicity in what they are witnessing on-screen..

Since my first encounter with Tokyo Drift, I’ve gone on to acquire (with some difficulty) the entire FF Saga on VHS. In the next part, I will cover the breathtaking achievement that is Fast and Furious (2009). This monumental work witnessed the resurrection of the classic motifs of the first film, but also laid the groundwork for the saga as we know it today.


Have no fear, dear readers. The second part of my expose is in the wings. But in the meantime, kick back, relax, and remember - Give it a rest once in a while!

Your "pal",

Jimmy

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