Initial D (2005) / Action-Drama
aka Tau Man Chi D

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language, mild violence, sexual themes, and brief nudity
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: Jay Chou, Anthony Wong, Chapman To, Edison Chen, Anne Suzuki, Shawn Yue, Jordan Chan, Kenny Bee
Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Screenplay: Felix Chong (based on the comic by Shuichi Shigeno)
Review published July 17, 2005

Based on the popular Japanese manga by Shuichi Shigeno, which has also been made into an equally popular anime series and a Playstation game, Initial D is a live action Hong Kong production. This marks yet another comic book to movie presentation that has been all the rage in big budget moviemaking for the past several years, not only in the US, but in Asia as well.  Like many that have tread the same path, Initial D benefits from the most realistic visual presentation of the story to date, but just as it captures the essence of racing in a way the comic could never really do, so too does it carry over the same scant character development and thinly presented dialogue.  In essence, one can praise the makers of this film for doing a relatively good job in making sure the film stays true to the comic, at least as far as a Cantonese language version can, but at the same time, that doesn't necessarily make it a good movie on its own. 

There isn't much to the story except to know that there is a young gas station attendant (Chou, Hidden Track) and tofu delivery boy that has become known as the best street racer around.  Other travel to a particular stretch of curvy mountainous road in order to try to beat him on his own turf, so that they can become famous as the god of street racers. 

The main attraction here for anyone that isn't a die-hard fan of the manga are the numerous racing scenes, which are well-shot and edited, with sleek cinematography that is a marvel to behold.  Although some of the shots are CGI, especially some of the crashes, it is still presented in a way that makes it relatively seamless, even if it isn't always perfect.  In addition to the visual aspects, Initial D benefits from a hip soundtrack of hip hop and pop tunes, a bevy of souped-up street racers, and a cast of heartthrob actors that should keep some of the young female audience entertained as well.

Yet, for all of the strong points, the story is too shallow, without any characters we can care about.  There are a few moments of comic relief, mostly provided by the irreverent Anthony Wong (The Medallion, Vampire Effect) and funnyman Chapman To (The Attractive One, Cat and Mouse), but the rest of the movie takes the racing and drifting aspects far more seriously than most in the audience will probably feel it is.  The characters are stereotypical, each fulfilling a predetermined purpose for conflict, and this is especially true in the needless ersatz romance ham-handedly presented between Jay Chou and Anne Suzuki (Snow Falling on Cedars, Returner), with a silly prostitution subplot that probably should have been excised, even though it is part of the manga. 

Fans of the manga and animated series will probably be mostly satisfied, provided they aren't expecting a perfect translation.  Those uninitiated with the entire "Initial D" universe will probably think it a tad silly, like The Fast and the Furious Asian-style, although street racing enthusiasts may be a little more forgiving of the dumb story for the sake of the excellent photography of street drifting at its most precise.  Infernal Affairs fans, hoping that directors Lau (Dance of a Dream, Sausalito) and Mak (A War Named Desire, Final Romance), and screenwriter Felix Chong (Tokyo Raiders, Gen-Y Cops), would repeat the intelligence of that series, should be warned that this is strictly popcorn fare, never remotely encroaching the realm of plausibility or profoundness in subject matter.  Like the sport itself, Initial D all about mechanics and aesthetics, while anything resembling a heart and soul are kicked to the curb.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo