If there's one thing that's slicker than Paul Walker's smile and more durable than Vin Diesel's biceps, it's the engine-revving, box-office-smashing thunder of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. No matter how loud the critics complain, no matter how many A-list stars flee for bigger paychecks, the street-race adventure flicks just keep on coming. With the recent announcement that a third film will begin shooting this fall, the "Furious" franchise got itself a new star: young filmmaker Justin Lin.
Lin, a Taiwanese writer/director raised in the O.C., blew his way through the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 with "Better Luck Tomorrow," a hyperkinetic story about Asian-American high school seniors dabbling in criminal behavior. Now, Universal hopes he'll bring a similar energy and multicultural awareness to a franchise that has taken in nearly $500 million worldwide.
"This is a big franchise for the studio," said Lin, pausing briefly as he packed his bags for a location scouting trip to Tokyo. "I'm just trying to make a good summer popcorn movie that has a little more to say; that's my goal. I'm not trying to win an Oscar, I just want to stay true to the characters and to the themes and have some kick-ass car chases. Those are the goals."
As the Chris ("Cellular") Morgan-penned script now stands, the third "Furious" film tells the story of Shaun Boswell, a 17-year-old American street-racer whose mother brokers a deal that allows him to avoid prison if he leaves the country. Sent to live with his military-employed uncle in Tokyo, the youth finds himself intrigued by the underground phenomenon of drift racing.
"It's about turning these corners on these roads, and how you handle it — it's not a straightaway race," Lin said of the real-life Asian phenomenon. "There are certain things required [of the cars] — you have to have rear-wheel drive; you can't have a four-wheel drive or a front-wheel drive, so you can pull the e-brake and stuff like that. You can drift, you can actually glide these turns, and be very efficient. It's not all about the speed; it's all about how you take these turns, so on a winding road you'll be kind of sliding back and forth very gracefully. It's interesting, because from a distance it looks very graceful, but when you're up close it's all about traction."
Lin confirms that the stars from "The Fast and the Furious" and its sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious" (including Walker, Diesel, Eva Mendes and Ludacris), won't be a part of the third installment, and that the only true link between the three films will be the cars themselves. Nevertheless, he considers the lack of familiarity to be freeing.
"We're casting [the character of Shaun] and we're thinking of this kid that will go with the sensibility of the movie I want to make, which is more of a global sense. Someone that you can't quite tell what he is," the director said, hinting that his new star will have a Diesel-esque ambiguity. "We're building a whole new cast; we're looking at everybody. The thing that excited me was that it's a brand-new film; we don't want any holdovers. For me, it's very much like a postmodern Sergio Leone movie. Structurally, it's very much like a Western."
Lin, a cinema-savvy director with a fondness for Leone's classic "Man With No Name" trilogy, says the battle between Shaun and a villain racer known as the "Drift King" will have echoes of the classic battles in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and the other films. "It's really just these two guys who are alpha males, and it's your classic Western setup: They have a little showdown at the end. That's pretty much all I can give you now, because I'm in the process of working that out. But think Western, think Leone Western."
The young director, who also cites Richard Linklater and Steven Soderbergh's careers as blueprints for the kind of studio-straddling indie filmmaker he'd like to become, says he'll find time to polish up the script in between all this scouting and casting. "Even if someone has to be a heavy, or a love interest, I don't want to take that for granted," he insisted. "I want to try to work really hard on the back story. In the initial script, they are Asian and some are Asian-Americans, and I'm working really hard to make them three-dimensional rather than just props, and that's always the challenge. But I feel like I'm up for it — so far so good. I guess we'll see next summer how it turns out."
Lin promises that casting announcements will be made over the next couple of months, and that the film will stay on target for a June 16, 2006 release. He also makes one last pledge: The currently untitled film will not be called "3 Fast 3 Furious."
"God," he laughed. "I really hope not."
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