Takumi (Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou), is an 18 year old garage-attendant who also acts as delivery boy for his dad’s tofu business. But he’s not just used his dad’s ageing Toyota AE86 for delivering soya-bean curd. Oh no. Since the age of 14 Takumi’s been taking the scary hairpin bends of Mt Akina in his stride and becoming, almost by accident, a drift-racing ace. With dad (Anthony Wong) often drunk, Takumi takes to the road in illegal, night-time, downhill races. But will the bad-ass competition push him one-bend too far? Supported by a team of speed-mad mates (an engaging turn from actor-singer Edison Chen), Takumi’s on a crash-course to learn about himself, his dad’s wayward past and his enigmatic girlfriend Natsuki (Anne Suzuki).
Initial D is full of classy motoring and spot-on performances, but the star’s not the car nor the characters – it’s Andrew Lau’s scintillating direction. Lucky, then, that Lau was able to get behind the wheel when Tsui Hark - originally down to direct - got out. For Lau’s also a renowned cinematographer, having shot numerous Hong Kong classics (like Ringo Lam’s City on Fire – the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs) and Initial D is a master-class in the malleability of the moving image. You’re unlikely to see better-shot racing scenes – Lau’s put his camera in places you didn’t think cameras could be put: roads’-eye, sky-high, wing-mirror, rear-mirror, split-screen, slo-mo. The adrenaline certainly rushes. Enjoyably, Lau’s also given a spin to the character-shots – with ever-so-brief freeze-frames hitting the emotional keys in expertly-done touches.
Car lovers will enjoy the ride. Toyota built a number of the old-style Toyota Sprinter Truenos AE86’s especially for the film, the model having been out of production since 1987 - and Jay Chou crashed at least one. Fuelled by the fumes, some may want to check out the Japanese TV anime version of Initial D or the comics themselves or indeed buy the soundtrack album – a hypnotic blend of rock, hip hop and pop.
But the film is as much about the man as the motor. Consequently, Initial D is hard to pin down - low on mayhem, high on sound and vision. It’s worth a spin - but doesn’t fire on all cylinders.