The mere thought of this being Hong Kong's biggest box office effort for the summer 2005 season sends shivers down a certain reviewer's spine. One shudders to think that, perhaps too busy preparing for Disneyland's debut in the city, audiences have glossed over how profound in its inadequacies the long-awaited racing flick is, and have gone out en masse to partake in the collective let-down. Arguably the lamest car movie since Nicholas Cage and crew revived “Gone in 60 Seconds”, Initial D falters not so much in techie stuff but rather through poor storytelling and horrible cinematographic trickery. Its characters and setting, derived from an anime series bearing the same name, also provide little reason to bother the postal service, and if you must write back home with news about it, tell the folks two, not one, of HK's foremost directors (Andrew Lau and Alan Mac) perhaps gave it their best, but still left us wanting.
Takumi has little desire for anything, with Chou's sad puppy face doing good justice to the protagonist's malcontent, reluctant demeanor. Even driving per se doesn't thrill him, but on one of his lonely trips up the mountain Takumi forms a relationship with two more serious-minded gear heads. Driving a sleek Nissan Skyline, Shawn Yue does Takeshi Nazakato, the leader of a local racing group. Helping the latter along while interested in recruiting Takumi for his natural gift of the drift is Edison Chen's Mazda RX7-touting Ryousuke Takahashi, a savvy aficionado with more of a business angle in mind. Both Yue and Chen infuse token appearances, with their characters, unlike Chou's, gaining nothing from being portrayed by those particular thespians. Exactly the same criticism can be leveled at Jordan Chan, who is on hand as the bad guy, even though Initial D's villains are about as menacing as a Seven Eleven night clerk. Chan comes in as Kyouichi Sudou, boss of a rival gang of professional race drivers. Sudou wants to retain his power base and eliminate any potential challengers like Takumi, but this is so poorly handled by Initial D, it's as if the story has no conflict at all.
Comic relief deteriorates into ludicrous annoyance courtesy of the typically competent Chapman To. He's here as Takumi's friend Itsuki Tachibana, a total wannabe when it comes to both wheels and the ladies. Although well-meaning, Itsuki as delivered by To is nothing but a ridiculous clown, with nary a moment on screen coming even close to what you might consider proper acting. Takumi and his friend work at a gas station owned by Yuuichi Tachibana (Kenny Bee), Itsuki's dad. A former friend of Takumi's father, this dude seems pissed off at being in the movie to begin with, as Kenny Bee constantly convinces audiences that he isn't just acting when kicking Chapman To around. Can you blame him?
Another distraction, this one pleasant, is the soundtrack. Full of relevant songs and themes, it features Jay Chou as well as other artists, in additional to original music by Chan Kwong Wing. Once more we're treated to a HK movie where audio outstrips video with ease. Certainly, a lot of attention and money went into Initial D. The high production values and the cost of moving the project to Japan show through the atrocious editing and bizarre photography ploys. But that's not enough to make for a good product, as the end result lacks any contextual punch, and beyond a few token nods to the culture that spawned it, gives scant reason to remember why the ignition key was ever turned.
Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Starring Jay Chou, Anthony Wong, Shawn Yue, Edison Chen, Anne Suzuki, Chapman To
2995, Cantonese, 115 minutes
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