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Initial D: Drift Racer
cast: Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Chapman To, Anthony Wong, and Jordan Chan

directors: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak

109 minutes (12) 2005 widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
SPOILER ALERT!
When I began reviewing for Pigasus Press, three or four years ago, I wanted to bounce around the genres, dip into each country's output, investigate any documentaries of gainful interest and, because I'm an addict, go for the occasional exploitation fix. It began well. I am still hopping around diversely but the pay off is no longer the same and I have to ask what is so different now! Previously a good judge of what I might enjoy, had I lost that miraculous perceptivity? No, that wasn't it. Over the years I, and others, have yearned for more world cinema, in experience of the cream scooped into what was a limited releasing market. The success of Amélie and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has changed all of that, as to as the rise of DVD. Though not providing viewers with dubbed versions, costs of releasing and distribution are cheaper, opening the doors to foreign language cinema that might not otherwise have been given that opportunity. Of course, French, Spanish, Iranian and Japanese cinema is entirely made up of masterpieces and classics and we were back then kept safe from the mediocre of those countries. With the demise of the videocassette the market has opened up led to laziness in the purchasers. A genre, a theme, a title, a name, a director, or the little asked for by the territory, viewers have been undeservedly rewarded over the last two years by a steady stream of drab stuff. The days are gone in which the staff of the local Global would panic at the discovery of an accidentally bought in foreign title, the beggars scrabbling around the shop for big scraps of paper for slipping under the plastic of Cyclo and Dobermann, even though that was only four years ago (and ironically, of all the world cinema titles they were two of the worst to accidentally buy in). I got what I asked for, didn't want what I got. I know the good films are still out there, they have simply become more difficult to fall upon.

Initial D: Drift Racer (aka: Tau man ji D) is another middling, piddling film to get in our way, nothing more appropriate than the fact that it comes from a company called Basic Films Ltd. Hardly the worst but an unusually half-hearted enterprise. Its source material is a comic book by Shuichi Shigeno, which has already been adapted several times for film and television. This, we are assured, is the most successful adaptation, news that I don't know how to take. Should I be relieved that I did not miss this for the less winning versions or work my way up through them? Should I be depressed that these other attempts might yet come our way clogging up release patterns when I know for a fact that there are wonderful films out there going unconsidered? Jay Chou is the delivery boy, Takumi Fujwara, who has secretly and preposterously increased his speeds along the mountain roads of Mount Akina, in a lowly Toyota AE86 to become the casual champion interpreter of drift racing. Drift racing is when "you step hard on the accelerator and don't slow down when you enter a bend. Then you have to swerve." Rival teams challenge one another on the mountain roads. Takumi works also at the petrol station belonging to the father of his best friend Itsuki (Chapman To), an asshole and a buffoon who sees himself as the king of the roads, though possessing no talent at the wheel at all. His comic antics aggravate both the racers and the viewer. Takumi is forced to come forward and take on all challengers resulting in a three-car chase; he in his AE86, a cool compatriot racer Ryousuke (Edison Chen) in an FC, and leather clad professional Kyouichi (Jordan Chan) in an E3.

Adapted from a popular Japanese comic, but made by and populated by Hong Kong names it is very much a Boy's Own caper for the 21st century, the kind of tosh that Michael Palin will be ridiculing 100 years from now if the cryogenics chamber holds out. The only female to feature is in a subplot about his love for the schoolgirl Natsuki (Anne Suzuki) but as she is reduced to a whore shagging her father-in-law in a love hotel for her pocket money, it is hardly worth bringing up that sad chapter. The girls really have been discounted by the geek authoring this slim adventure. Anthony Wong plays the veteran backroads racer Bunta Fujiwara, now a 40-something soak who manufactures tofu. There is a reason this actor is so highly regarded in Hong Kong, ever so easily stealing the show; he is the only detailed character. Takeshi's driving style is deliberately amusing, seemingly miles away in his head, slouched, one hand on the wheel, leaving everyone else behind. It is impressed upon us in the supporting material that the film did not CGI mock up any of the cars and they impressively reveal how a 200 foot high crane, mounted on a hood, captured some of the more surprising sequences. But cars have been re-deposited within the frame during crashes and when a vehicle lands on its roof some of the debris is clearly manufactured by computer too. The story is ordinary; the film is ordinary. If they are going to put this much effort into creating the vehicles or securing and then re-dressing the mountain road locations, then please, why not a little harder work on the story and script? The film has been rendered dull and pointless by lame storytelling. The editing is also on the side of frippery and the music is an abomination, a squelchy, farty, electro hardcore sound that we could really fucking well do without. Basic Films Ltd, indeed!

The last that we need are extras to confirm the complexity of the making and how simply expressed the whole caboodle is. The making of documentary may have carefully states how no pixel cars were employed in the production but interviews do eventually reveal that there was CGI jiggery-pokery in the action sequences composition. The press conference is more like a car show, with a beauty contest thrown in... just in case the boys don't have enough to give them a tent with the cars. There are interviews with actors Jay Chou, Anthony Wong, Shaun Yue, Kenny Bee, Anne Suzuki, Edison Chan, Jordan Chen and Chapman To. The directors, Alan Mak and Andrew Lau, and the screenwriter, Felix Chong, are also allowed to prattle on. There is some surprising honesty from the actors. Though never wholly derogatory of the material and production, it is not the homogenised, heavily prepped nonsense of how wonderful 'they' and 'we' are that normally adorns Hollywood promotional material. Not that the interviews are ever that interesting, but the contributors are casual and honest commenting on how it was not the role but the scale of the production that brought them aboard and confessions of cowardice... wishing they could do what the stuntmen find so easily. The releasers annoy us further with pointless inclusions of the UK theatrical trailer, UK theatrical spot, the original theatrical trailer and a Maximum Bass 2 music television spot. Finally we see the 'Drift Kings' in action, in which the vehicles are loaned out to a couple of punk stunts people, one of whom is Dan of Dirty Sanchez.
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