Saturday, September 10, 2005

Initial Impressions

So, Initial D. Again. The live-action one this time.

I liked it.

If you go on and such you'll find that a lot of purists totally hated it. I actually thought it was pretty faithful to the comic. Certainly the cars are spot-on.

It's weird having the Chinese actors speaking Cantonese in Japan, but you get used to that pretty quick. Some characters have been cut out or condensed into other characters, but it all makes sense for the sake of story economy.

People seem to get angriest over the changes to Tak's father. In the manga he's just a really quiet, mysterious guy. In the movie he's an abusive alcoholic. But he's played by Anthony Wong, who was in Infernal Affairs along with probably a bunch of other stuff, and Wong is excellent. You've never seen such a cool, likeable abusive alcoholic. With Wong in the role, I didn't mind the changes at all. The changes may not have been necessary but they do add a little depth, making Tak's life that much more miserable and that much more in need of the solace of racing.

People also get pissed that there's no Eurobeat like in the anime. I didn't really watch enough of the anime to get attached to that, so the Chinese hip-hop works fine for me. Also, the racing scenes lack the detailed thoughts and strategizing that appear in the manga and the anime. But all these details are the reason it takes several episodes/issues to take a simple race down the mountain. They're a pleasure to read, but in a movie, they obviously have to go.

The trade-off, which all these fanatics seem to ignore, is that at last we have races staged by actual cars on an actual mountain driven by actual stunt drivers. The authenticity this provides, in contrast with static drawings or cheesy computer animation, more than makes up for us not hearing Tak's opponents think, "He's passing me in an Eight-Six? Impossible!"

Yes, it's a lot of drifting down the same mountain road, but it's all expertly done and almost all real. There is some CGI, but only for brief Fast-&-the-Furious-style flythroughs, crashes and one move that I'm guessing would have been too dangerous to do for real. It's rare enough that it's not too distracting, but it is obvious when it shows up. In a way, though, that's a good thing, because you can tell they're not shitting you with all the other stunts--they're not CGI, and if they were, you'd know it.

Everyone's clearly not a teenager, but you're already imagining they're Japanese, so the extra leap is not such a big deal. The performances, besides Wong's, are nothing special, but they get the job done. If you are more familiar with Cantonese you might notice that Tak (played by some Taiwanese pop star) is a Mandarin speaker who can't actually speak Cantonese.

They don't skimp on the race scenes, either--there's plenty to enjoy. Overall, definitely a worthy entry in the car movie genre.

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