The Fast and the Furious franchise has come to a close recently (or at least the Paul Walker storyline has). In 2006, the series demonstrated that it didn't need Walker or the rest of the gang from the first two films in order to maintain the look, feel, and swagger of the series. A huge part of that accomplishment is due to director Justin Lin, who ditched the self-serious, Point Break-adjacent plot of the earlier films for something that resembles the more populist Karate Kid. But The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift also has a lot in common with Westerns (an influence that Chris Morgan's script acknowledges directly in the dialogue). These inspirations make Tokyo Drift a better, more streamlined film than its predecessors: it paved the way for the alleged brilliance of Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, neither of which I have yet seen, but plan to.

One of the best things Lin did was to focus the plot down to its bare essentials. It may still be irrelevant, but it is at least easy to follow: High schooler Sean (Lucas Black) becomes a hotshot in the Tokyo drift racing underworld after moving to Japan to avoid a prison sentence. Simple. The storytelling gets out of the way of the main attractions of the film: extremely cool, dangerous racing. The fact that the cast is peopled with capable actors like Black, Sung Kang, and Kill Bill's very own Sonny Chiba means that you care just enough about the characters to get nervous when they start in on their death-defying races.

About that racing: it's still as awesome, tense, and flashy as anything out there today (except maybe the newer Furious films), and Tokyo Drift is pushing its decade anniversary. Lin knows how to frame and cut around the driving just so you can get the minimum amount of view necessary to make the action coherent without sacrificing momentum. He makes it easy to follow where the drivers are in relation to one another and allows the stunt workers the room to really show off their stuff for the camera. The talky scenes in between the races are dopey and about stuff like "character" and "who you really are," but their brief enough that they pace the film well and aren't ever too embarrassing for the actors, who sell the dialogue like it's a used car.

Tokyo Drift has its roots in T&A films, so there are quite a few queasy moments of female exploitation that haven't aged well (as if that were even a thing of the past). And although she's about as good of an actor as I am a point guard, Kelley at least has a tiny bit more room to create a character than most female co-stars do in films like this. Nevertheless, there are countless shots of anonymous, ill-clad Japanese girls who slink around the men like boa constrictors, none of whom are named or acknowledged. These women exist simply to leave the room when "business talk" has to happen. Despite the welcome, multicultural bent of the Furious series, the only character who gets a decent amount of characterization is white protag Sean; Bow Wow as Twinkie is only a slightly racist character (he sells stuff on the black market!), and Sung makes the most out of a cookie-cutter role. Strangely enough, the only Japanese principal in the film is Chiba, who is onscreen for all of ten minutes.

I am not nearly as high as a lot of folks on Tokyo Drift - I am definitely a fan, though. The movie makes me optimistic about the other films in the series (although common wisdom dictates that I can skip 1, 2, and 4). The ending of the Furious series has made me consider its place in film history: it began in 2001 and has ended in 2015. It is one of the most distinctive action series of the early part of the century, and has its feet firmly planted in the culture of the time. Its multi-culti cast and aggressive action make it worth watching, as well as its outright refusal to be anything more sophisticated than a punch in the gut. My enjoyment with this film shows that sometimes I like eating candy for every meal of the day.

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