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Posts Tagged ‘Sung Kang’

When Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift first came out in 2006, it did okay for itself, though it didn’t quite cross the double-its-budget box office threshold that apparently is the requirement for a film to be considered a genuine success. Most people dismissed it as a clutching-at-straws third instalment of series which had run out of ideas (not to mention original cast members). Not-quite-ten years on, of course, with the Fast and Furious franchise elevated to world-bestriding colossus status, it has acquired a certain curiosity value – is it the franchise misstep it initially looks like?

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Like I said, the main characters of the series are distinctly thin on the ground this time around, and protagonist duties are left to Texan bad lad and (inevitably) boy racer Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), who at the start of the film is expelled from high school. This is not, as you might have thought, because he is visibly about 25 and much too old to be at school – everyone at high school in Texas seems to be well on the way to their thirties, which is not a great advertisement for the state’s education system when you think about it.

No, Sean gets kicked out for racing, predictably enough, and is packed off to stay with his dad, who is living a slightly sleazy expat lifestyle in Tokyo (which often looks suspiciously like Los Angeles with bits added via special effects). Despite not speaking or reading a word of Japanese, he is nevertheless packed off to the local Japanese school. Here he makes friends with a comic relief sidekick (Bow Wow), who is not Japanese, and sort of starts a bit of a thing with a hot-looking girl (Nathalie Kelley), who is not Japanese either.

All this inevitably leads Sean to the local street racing circuit, where finally a (these days at least) familiar face appears – it’s Han from the Fast and Furious All-Stars (Sung Kang), who isn’t Japanese either. When Hot Girl’s boyfriend Takeshi (Brian Tee), who is actually Japanese, takes exception to Sean putting the moves on her, a race inevitably breaks out – but Sean’s skills at going very fast in a straight line are of limited value in Japan, where one apparently wins races by going very fast round corners in a manner I would describe as fairly unsafe. Having wrecked one of Han’s cars and lost this vehicular combat, Sean finds himself having to do odd jobs for Han. But will he win the heart of Hot Girl? Will the simmering rivalry between Sean and Takeshi ignite again? And will he ever manage to learn how to go around corners properly?

Now, enjoyable as I find the Fast and Furious movies, even I will cheerfully admit they are not exactly highbrow entertainment – but even by the standards of the series, Tokyo Drift is an unusually vacuous piece of work, as you may have noted from the the number of times ‘inevitably’ and ‘predictably’ crop up in the synopsis just above. To say the plot is contrived and more than a bit silly is an understatement, and while all of these films have a glossy sheen, this one has little else.

These days, Asia is such a major market that it’s quite common for films to incorporate Asian characters and even extra scenes just to appeal to crowds over there, but I doubt the decision to set this film in Tokyo was made with an eye on seizing the audience’s yen: if so, they would probably have included a single sympathetic named Japanese character. (There’s kind of a suggestion that Hot Girl may be half-Japanese, but the film virtually admits that she’s just there to be ornamental and doesn’t bother with giving her any depth.) But they don’t – every local whose name we learn is either a local thug or an actual member of the Yakuza. Being – well, calling it ‘heroic’ is pushing it in a movie where the height of moral and personal achievement consists of going round a corner at high speeds while not pointing the right way, but whatever – is left to the expats. Japan is just there because it looks nice and because it presents some interesting cliches to mess around with (Sean gets into a bit of a contretemps with a sumo wrestler at one point, who is very unflatteringly depicted).

I think it’s also probably an issue that most of these films are about various legally-dubious capers, with a little light car racing on the side, whereas in Tokyo Drift the situation is reversed – Han is up to some dodgy deals, but the focus is firmly on going round corners quickly at funny angles. The non-vehicular action quotient is lower here than in any of the other films in the series, which somehow makes the whole thing a bit more of a niche movie – you either have to be really into car racing, or alternatively absurdly misrepresented Japanese pop culture, to find this very engaging stuff. (Although I suppose cultural historians may find the way the film makes a big deal out of people having cameras on their phones interesting, as this clearly still had novelty value back in 2006.)

In short, it’s an eminently dismissible entry in the series, or would be if recent instalments hadn’t tried so heroically to retcon a little significance into it. If you’ve seen the later films in which he appears, Sung Kang’s performance here seems loaded with a kind of soulfulness and significance that probably just wasn’t there at the time the film came out: in any case, as the main link to the rest of the series, he does a sterling job. There is also the pleasure of imagining a surly-looking Jason Statham lurking just out of frame for much of the film, as we must now imagine is the case. It really does tie in with the other movies remarkably well: one has to wonder just how far in advance, and in how much detail, they plan ahead.

Having said that, I suspect they’re just very good at improvising and stitching bits together, because if in 2006 they were planning to make a series of very good films some years down the line, one has to wonder why they didn’t make a better one at the time. Tokyo Adrift would probably be a better subtitle for this one – most of the elements that make this series fun are present and correct here, but it’s even dumber than usual and you really do miss the regular characters. The film is kind of flopping about trying to find a reason to exist and not quite managing it – if the next four films hadn’t gone on to be such massive hits, I doubt anyone would spare it very much thought at all.

 

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Someone appears to have declared this to be Old Git Action Month, for the ancient stone gods of the genre have risen from their stately thrones and are lumbering about the place making the dull honking noises that was ever their primary mode of communication. First of all we had Arnold Schwarzenegger, not exactly back with a bang in The Last Stand, and, close upon his heels, here comes Sylvester Stallone, starring in Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head: a movie so utterly in thrall to its own genre conventions it practically reviews itself.

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This is a film with a slight problem on the Silly Name front. Stallone plays New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo, who is going about his business as usual with his partner (obviously, he has a code of honour, which he appears to have bought pre-owned from a character in a Luc Besson movie). However – and don’t bother to stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the duo find themselves set up while on what appeared to be a routine job, and his partner is offed.

In town to investigate the killings is strait-laced Washington PD detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose investigative skills seem to be limited to googling people on his smartphone. Nevertheless, Kwon tracks down Bobo and convinces him that they should team up to find whoever ordered the hit in the first place.

On paper it sounds somewhat complex, and I suppose it is a bit, but what it all boils down to is Kang googling people on his smartphone (seriously, he’s never off the damn thing, and Stallone even mocks him for his dependence on it – I thought this was all building up to a climactic gag where Kang would actually use the phone to kill someone and resolve the plot, but no) so that he and Stallone can drive round there and shoot them (sometimes after roughing them up a bit). It all turns out to be about local civic corruption, but even this plot gets peremptorily switched off so Stallone and featured bad guy Jason Momoa can have a set-piece fight with axes.

Walter Hill has been knocking out movies like this for well over thirty years, and this is hardly one of his better productions. As loud, bloody, extremely macho and formulaic action thrillers go, it’s okay – red-blooded old-school fans of this sort of thing will probably find it passable, but the whole thing stews in its own testosterone to the extent that anyone else will probably find it a bit objectionable.

For example, most of the female characters, and both of the significant ones, have at least one nude scene, usually relatively lengthy. And it’s a bit bemusing that Sung Kang was specifically cast in this movie (replacing Tom Jane) in order to give it ‘wider ethnic appeal’ when the treatment of his character is arguably quite racist: Stallone gets to make numerous cracks, calling him Confucius, Oddjob, Kato, and so on. And quite apart from that, his character is just insipid – he’s not Stallone’s partner, he’s a whiny sidekick who goes on and on about his phone and about how, when all this is over, he’s going to have bring Stallone to justice for being a hitman (no prizes for guessing whether he does or not). He comes across as weak and dorky.

Then again, the film isn’t looking to give anyone equal billing with Stallone, for this is his vehicle. For a pensioner, he looks in frankly alarmingly good shape – he gets a lengthy fight sequence in his pants, which I can’t imagine any other actor of his age agreeing to, and faces off with the half-his-age Jason Momoa quite convincingly. His face appears to be permanently stuck in an expression of hangdog wounded cynicism, and his voice is virtually a gravelly monotone (he can vary the volume but not, apparently, the pitch), but I think this was probably always the case.

The thing about The Last Stand is that at least it has the novelty value of being Arnie’s first starring role in nearly a decade. Stallone’s been plugging away doing this sort of thing almost non-stop since the 80s. There’s a vague attempt to acknowledge Stallone’s back catalogue and screen persona, but he could have made this film twenty years ago with only the tiniest of changes. As a lowest-common-denominator action thriller it is perfectly serviceable, but it’s also thoroughly mediocre and a tiny bit pointless. Maybe Arnie and Sly should get together for a – oh, God, no, I’ve just remembered that they already have. As you were, gentlemen.

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