Dirs: Andrew Lau, AlanMak. HK. 2005. 107mins.
After the InfernalAffairs trilogy, directing duo Andrew Lau and Alan Mak seem to have theMidas touch. This year's summer blockbuster in Hong Kong, Initial D nudged a$5m gross at home - more than War Of The Worlds and Batman Beginsput together.
Loosely working from ShiuchiShigeno's popular Japanese manga comic book series about a teen downhill racer,the film combines stirring, techno-cool car racing footage with a comiclightness of touch.
It also bears witness to theincreasingly market-smart pan-Asian thrust of recent big-budget Hong Kongproductions: with Taiwanese pop phenomenon Jay Chou taking the lead in hiscinema debut, Japanese star Anne Suzuki (who voiced Ray Steam in Steamboy)providing the love interest, and a bunch of Hong Kong supporting actorspretending to be Japanese street kids, the film has an eye on the whole FarEastern catchment area.
The strategy seems to havepaid off handsomely so far, with an ongoing $23m added to the film's Hong Konggross in the rest of Asia. Manga fans out West will lap it up, but the film issuch an enjoyable breeze that it could well go beyond this niche sector tobecome a cult hit if distributors find a way of marketing it to thesubtitle-allergic youth market.
Initial D demonstrates that it's not necessary to reproducethe style of a comic book, Sin-City-style, to capture its spirit. Thefilmmakers have gone for a digitally-enhanced videogame look, and replaced theEurobeat soundtrack of the Japanese manga TV series that first adaptedShigeno's books with harder, more streetwise Asian hip-hop.
The car action mixes craneshots of the hairpin bends of Mount Akina, where the downhill challenges takeplace, with close-to-the-tarmac shots of burning rubber and kerbs just millimetresaway from skidding tyres. The CG background comes to the fore occasionally inanimated sequences where the road is reduced to white lines on black, like adeejay stripping a melody back to the drum and bass.
But the most persuasive andenjoyable aspect of this adaptation is the laid-back, tongue-in-cheek attitudethat is maintained throughout - a refreshing change from the hormonal teenintensity that usual marks the illegal-car-race genre.
Some of this laid-back coolis inherent in the character of Takumi (Chou), a reluctant racer who beginsnotching up crazy times in his father's anonymous Toyota AE86, letting his backtyres "drift" (the Initial D of the title) around corners without losingacceleration, simply because he's anxious to get back as soon as possible fromlate-night tofu deliveries on Mount Akina.
Takumi is a cool jerk,sleepwalking through life with a half-open, fly-catching mouth. He's passive inlove (with schoolfriend Natsuki, played by Suzuki) and in his relationship withhis abusive, drunken father (a hammed-up satirical turn from Infernal Affairsstar Anthony Wong).
Takumi's gradual realisationthat he's actually a pretty good driver - and that the car he's drivingconceals a powerful, modified engine tuned lovingly by his dad, a former racer- is the plot spring that unwinds slowly through the course of the film.
Supporting roles are takenby Edison Chen as Takumi's main racing rival and Edison Chen - playing 15 yearsyounger - as Takumi's terminally uncool, slapstick-prone best friend Itsuki.
The film plumbs deeperemotions only occasionally, sketching in but failing to develop an argumentabout over-demanding fathers (the bane of Takumi and Itsuki's lives) andabsentee mothers, and making the character of Natsuki too much of a mere catalystfor Takumi's anger towards the end of the film.
But this is probably aconsequence of Initial D's carefree take on teen angst. This is a film,after all, in which two rival teen racers share a Pepsi after a fight to thedeath.
Media Asia Films
Hong Kong distribution
Media Asia Distribution
from the manga by Shuichi Shigeno
Lai Yiu Fai
Ng Man Ching
Chan Kwong Wing