Sunday, 23 November 2014

Initial D (HK, 2005)

Based on the highly popular Japanese manga/anime series this Hong Kong made movie clearly took some ideas from the earlier American smash hit movie 'The Fast and the Furious'. Despite the whole concept of illegal street racing generally being a word wide thing its always been a popular icon in American and Japanese pop culture/culture. The concept of drifting (drift racing) is originally an entirely Japanese form of illegal racing which involves racing down and through tight mountain passes or simple tight narrow winding roads. This movie is centred on drift racing (as was the source material) and will feel very similar to 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift', so if you enjoyed that you'll like this.

The plot is obvious and the usual thing for this type of movie. A young tofu delivering teen is the undisputed king of the mountain when it comes to drifting, he learnt everything he knows from his racing guru of a father...who for comedic purposes is a drunk. His fame for drifting gets noticed by various other racer gangs/teams and he is challenged at various points throughout until he must face some stiff competition at the end. During all this racing drama there is of course the drama of reality with a girlfriend, his best mate who also wants to race, the car breaking down, his father etc...the usual boyracer issues.

Lets be brutally honest here...this movie is basically a Fast and Furious movie set in Japan, its virtually an extension to Tokyo Drift. Everything plays out as you'd expect, the characters are all cliched and cheesy (I love the Japanese black leather wearing gang racers with bandanas and dreads), the races are of course predictable and you know what's gonna happen at every turn (pun intended). What makes it a bit unique is the simple fact its set in Japan, a very picturesque prefecture, it feels more realistic being in Japanese (subs) and the race sequences are gritty looking.

In that sense the movie is better than its US counterparts (just like Tokyo Drift is the best of the FnF franchise). The racing is very impressive and very realistic with genuine drifting stunts on genuine tight twisty roads in Japan. Again I must stress its nothing you haven't seen before of course, not anymore, but it looks really solid. There is little fanfare here either, the races are merely two average looking modded ricers, a few drably dressed onlookers, the hero is also pretty drab himself and there are little to no special effects bar the odd zooming through the car interior and a hint of internal engine tomfoolery. Expect lots of slow motion replays, tight camera angles on the cars, flybys, close-ups on pedals and speedometers, grimacing facial close-ups etc...all regular racing cliches.

There are no semi-naked females in ultra tight skimpy attire, no boom boxes blaring out rap tunage, no heavily blinged up chavy patrons, no heavily pimped up stupid looking cars, no muscles covered in tattoos blah blah blah. This is very down to earth and grounded, Japanese teens are incredibly sensible and well dressed compared to teens elsewhere. Its actually amusing to see them try and be rebellious because they just end up looking like preppy school kids dressed badly.

As I already said the cars are not luminous monstrosities scraping the tarmac polluting the air with hip hop and with the kind of body kits you'd see being used for a glider. Nope...what I loved about this movie was the use of straight up ricers with little gloss but plenty of real muscle. Naturally we see the glorious GT-R, a lovely Mazda RX-7, a stunning Evo IV and the plucky little Toyota Sprinter Trueno that is taken faithfully from the manga series. In the manga series the Toyota is apparently unmodified but in this movie it does seem to be somewhat with suspension and the odd bits n bobs. There are quite a few inevitable changes from the source material to this movie and one appears to be the absence of how Takumi's father does a Mr Miyagi and slowly teaches him how to become a top drifter/racer without him even realising whilst he delivers his tofu. In this movie you do get a hint of that but it seems as though Takumi knows he's being taught which takes away the sparkle.

Watching this now it feels very very very hokey I won't deny, its cringeworthy in places its so damn corny. Plus the rush in street racing flicks has flooded the market so the originality is long gone. Like I said the locations work nicely and will really get Jap super saloon fanboys excited and the cast is solid despite a weak performance from lead star Jay Chou as Takumi...he's hardly much to look at either. Chapman To is easily the best thing cast wise with his chubby bumbling over the top comedic display combined with that odd haircut, he does boost the movie which would of been too dull in places without him. The movie ends on a bit of a flat note I think but other than that its a decent street racer flick which should satisfy anyone who likes this sort of thing. Still not too sure why the franchise is called 'Initial D'.