Anyone who watches Challenge TV at 8.30am on a Sunday (there must be someone?) will be aware of ‘Formula D’, a new style of racing invented in Japan. Known as Driftracing, it involves sliding overpowered cars impossibly fast round corners, using a sort of semi-handbrake turn, if I understand it correctly. Initial D: Driftracer started life as a manga comic about the sport, and has now graduated into full movie status.
In Mount Akina, the illegal street racing team ‘Night Kids’ gather each night to show off their skills down Akinas series of deadly hairpin bends, and challenge the mysterious ‘Akina Racing God’, who has mastered the art of drifting.
The God himself, Takumi (Jay Chou), is actually unaware of his special status, having perfected his skills by repeatedly delivering tofu up and down the mountain. Juggling a drunken, abusive father (Anthony Wong) and a budding relationship with Natsuki (Anne Suzuki), he’s not interested in becoming a racer.
But, when his identity is revealed, his father, his friends and his girlfriend all convince him to put his life on the line in a series of perilous downhill challenges, and prove himself the true god of Mount Akina.
Initial D: Driftracer has been absolutely huge in Hong Kong, out grossing both War of the Worlds and Batman Begins when it opened. Based on a popular manga, adapted by the team behind Infernal Affairs and featuring Jay Chou, a massive name in the Asian pop industry, it could hardly fail.
Less will be expected of it in the UK, where manga has only a cult following and most people would walk past Jay Chou without recognising him. Nevertheless it may perform creditably, because behind the famous names there’s a half decent movie.
The directing combination of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak functions once again, and they coat the thing liberally with style. Glossy freeze frames, spins and split screens are combined smoothly to make a pleasing visual spectacle, set to a pacy electronic soundtrack.
The stunts, which are performed by professional driftracers, look brilliant, and watching these powerful cars screeching round corners can really set the pulse racing. It’s a slight shame that it reeks of product placement, as most of the hunky driftracers seem to enjoy a Pepsi after a hard race. But this doesn’t detract too much.
Forget about the plot though, because it is forgettable, not so much bad as absent. Takami’s love interest has a combined total of around 10 minutes to garble out her story for a bit of tension, then its back to the boys with their toys. The script has a fair few laughs though, as with many Asian movies, you suspect it loses a bit in translation. Its all over in a refreshingly brisk hour and a half, door open for an inevitable sequel.
At the end of the day, the clunky dialogue and one dimensional characters have to drag it down a bit, but nevertheless this is a pleasing visual spectacle, and a nice slice of fun.