Teen trailer trash Sean Boswell is forced to go live with his dad in Tokyo after he gets arrested again for dangerous driving, and discovers the Tokyo car drifting scene, rife with crime.
Justin Lin, 2006
Otherwise known as the one without Paul Walker (only Han and one other mystery guest show up from the usual cast in this film), the focus shifts to teen speed fiend Sean (Lucas Black) who takes the show to Asia after trying to win a girl in a car race with the oldest kid from Home Improvement. He’s hopelessly reckless, unable to back down from a challenge, and he drives fast but with no control (a metaphor, in case you hadn’t guessed, for his life). In Tokyo, he tries to create a relationship with his estranged father, but rapidly gets sucked into a life of crime with a whole lot of people who, for some reason, aren’t Japanese. Our old buddy Han (Sung Kang) employs Sean to drive for him and teaches him how to drift, while Sean romances schoolmate and Yakuza ward Neela (Nathalie Kelley). He makes enemies with DK (Brian Tee), who has family ties to the Yakuza, and learns to own up to his mistakes while drifting around Tokyo.
This film has one of the best character journeys of the whole series. Lucas Black is a volatile but facsinating lead, and his journey from self-involved teen to responsible young adult is the backbone of the film. It’s a good character arc, carried capably by Black. The film marks the directorial debut of Justin Lin in the series, and his shiny, high-contrast vision imbues the series with a new energy and the much-improved visuals that have carried through the series. It’s a solid installment; the car scenes are full of vitality, making full use of drifting, with believable consequences. The characters are impacted by their actions, giving the film real tension. It’s a lot more fun than some of the installments with the original cast, and a huge improvement over the second movie.
There is the weirdest kind of racism in this film, in which the only Japanese people are bad guys while the good guys are white, black, Korean and Peruvian. Sean attends a Japanese school where he immediately makes friends with Twinkie (Bow-Wow) and Neela, and enemies with any Japanese students he comes across. Naturally, he gets into a car race with DK almost immediately upon arrival in the country who is, of course, Neela’s boyfriend. There’s an attempt to make Neela a rounded, if unrealistic, character, but women are mostly used as prizes to be won by men (literally, in the case of the first race, where the girl actually offers herself up as a prize to the winner). The culture shock jokes last all of about five minutes, after which point this film could literally take place anywhere, Yakuza standing in for mobsters and gangsters from the other films. A few of the car scenes have neat moments that make use of Japanese scenery and Tokyo crowds (a drift through a crowd is visually impressive but kind of silly). All in all it sits solidly in the middle in terms of the franchise, though it’s the most recent movie in terms of the timeline of the series.