Its five-word title instantly invokes everything associated with one of the most popular, and harshly reviewed, movie franchises of the past decade -- not to mention the questions that accompany any new installment of a film series.
If "The Fast and the Furious" movies have made so much money being brainless, why should artistic-minded people put any real effort into a sequel? If the series' stars are missing, how can it still be considered a blockbuster? If there's no narrative thread throughout the series, why would audiences want to see it concluded?
Such queries have plagued 33-year-old director Justin Lin and his daring, largely unknown cast ever since they were handed the keys to the "Furious" franchise. When it came time to find answers, they insist it was just a matter of making sure that the audience got their drift.
"Let's be realistic, there's a lot of cynicism," Lin said recently of the challenges of bringing "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" to the big screen. "People feel like, by the time it hits part three, it's about recycling."
Another way to look at it is that Lin, the Taiwanese director who kicked down Hollywood's door four years ago with the indie hit "Better Luck Tomorrow," suddenly gained access to a toybox that would make even the most seasoned filmmakers salivate -- and the last thing he was going to do with it was recycle.
"This is way different," insisted Bow Wow, who plays a car-racing con artist in the flick that explores a slick-wheeled Japanese racing phenomenon. "The styles of racing in the first two were basically similar, and in this one we're introducing a whole new style of racing called drifting. Also, there's just the fact that it takes place in a whole entirely different country.
"Once we went to the first meetings, the discussion was, 'How can we make it different and better and bigger than the first two?' " the 19-year-old star added. "We had to make it happen."
The result is -- as you'd expect -- an eardrum-assailing, lightning-paced, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that might send your bag of popcorn flying through the air. The real shock, however, is that it's the first "Furious" movie with a brain under the hood.
"It's a self-discovery movie," Lin insisted, equating the story of street racer Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) to his own experiences as an Asian filmmaker navigating Hollywood. "This is really, at the end of the day, about this kid who is outside and comes into town. He gets into trouble and boom, boom, boom, you have the final showdown. ... He could be an outsider if he was living in L.A. or New York, just as much as Tokyo. And he defines himself as an outsider."
Lin made plenty of outsider decisions himself while injecting "Drift" with the one special effect that fans may find even more powerful than a tank of nitrous oxide: passion.
It was important to Lin that he told an outsider tale with as much power behind the plot as in the franchise's trademark cars, and it was equally important that he be able to bring some loyal friends along with him. Never was that more obvious than at the film's recent gala premiere, featuring a red carpet as gridlocked as Los Angeles' 405 freeway.
"I'm not going to lie and say it's easy," insisted Jason Tobin, a Hong Kong actor who appears in "Drift," his first summer blockbuster, after more than a decade attempting to crack Hollywood's racial barriers. "But I think [Hollywood's racial make-up] is changing, and what's great about being an Asian-American actor is that at least you're part of something special. You do see the crest coming over, and it's about to break, and you're part of that.
"The fact that I was in 'Fast and the Furious,' that's so cool," continued Tobin, one of the many actors Lin has brought along for his post-"BLT" adventures. "People say to me, 'Hey, you're in that groundbreaking Asian-American film,' and I'm like, wow, that makes me proud."
"It's still funny sometimes," Lin added, saying that as passionately as he felt about exposing American audiences to his world, he realized on day one of the "Drift" shoot that he was still working in theirs. "The first day of my big movie, I drive on the set and the security won't let me in. They thought I was a P.A. [production assistant]! It happens all the time. Every time I go to a meeting, they're like, 'So, what are you delivering?'
"It constantly slaps me in the face, that I'm still perceived as a bit of an outsider," Lin lamented. "But it's cool."
Once the cameras started rolling, Bow Wow insisted, everyone was on an equal plane. "Out of all the directors I've worked with so far in my movie career, me and Justin really hit it off," he said. "We've just got so much in common, with us talking trash on the set about basketball -- he knows I'm a Lakers fan, he's not a really big Lakers fan, and he used to tease me about that. It's just those types of things that can really bring everybody together. And he's one of the quickest directors I've ever worked with. That's how I like to work, at a very fast pace."
As it stands, "Tokyo Drift" is much like its director: fast, intelligent and unafraid to push some boundaries. And if audiences can get themselves past all that aforementioned baggage, Justin Lin and his cast are happy to take them on a very different kind of ride.
See everything we've got on "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
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