Initial D: Driftracer Review
Initial D: Driftracer represents Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s follow-up to their expansive Infernal Affairs trilogy. Eschewing the complex plotting and Godfather-alike aspirations of those films, this effort is by far the lighter concoction. It’s a youth movie, one with manga (and subsequent anime) origins, one closer to the Fast and the Furious franchise than Infernal Affairs’, though it would appear that the influence works both ways given the third FATF instalment, Tokyo Drift.
Starting life as a comic book, it’s hardly surprising to discover that Initial D comes with simplest of narratives: clean cut hero with a natural talent for racing – and the drift technique so prominent in both title and set pieces – seeks perfectionism over the course of 105 minutes and various “duels”. And yet harder edges also exist. The father-son relationship, featuring a turn from Infernal Affairs’ Anthony Wong as an alcoholic divorcee ‘tofuman’, is really quite brutal and never resolves itself into a happy ending. Similarly, the token young love subplot – initially so trite – darkens considerably in the final act. Indeed, whilst racing success may very well be a given, our hero ultimately has a tough time of things even if Initial D is by no means a dark movie. After all, Chapman To crops up to reprise the bad hair and comic relief combination he supplied for Infernal Affairs to continually hilarious effect.
Furthermore, on strictly aesthetic terms, Initial D is often beautiful to behold. As with Ang Lee’s Hulk or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man efforts, there’s a genuine attempt to somehow ape the panel structure of the comic book format courtesy of elliptical editing, split-second flashbacks and intermittent use of voice-over. And in all honesty, it works remarkably well, the results being really quite unique and clearly showing the effort Lau and Mak have put into them. And perhaps it couldn’t be any other way as Initial D is ultimately so shallow in character and story terms that it demands attention elsewhere. As such the finished film is all about noise and visuals: the striking Japanese mountain landscapes; the unusual camera rigs following the vehicular action; the continual techno accompaniment (though this latter element was entirely reconfigured for the film’s UK and US releases). The result, then, is slick entertainment, a breather for its directors post-Infernal Affairs, and one which plays extremely well. No masterpiece, certainly, but as a piece of escapism it proves more than capable.
Released as a two-disc special edition, Initial D: Driftracer is one of Hong Kong Legends/Premier Asia’s more impressive releases of late. The film itself comes in its original 2.35:1 form, anamorphically enhanced, whilst there’s a choice of soundtracks. We get the original version with the score in DD5.1 and the new score available in both 5.1 and DTS. In all three cases the results are impressive, much like the picture quality: crisp, clean and clear, just we’d expect from such a release or, indeed, such a sonically and visually focused one. English subtitles, meanwhile, are of the optional variety.
Extras on the first disc are limited to a commentary by Dan Joyce, of Dirty Sanchez fame, and Richie Warren, the man behind Fuel Records who put the new soundtrack together. Not entirely serious, the track comes across almost as though we’re eavesdropping on two mates having a laugh; they know little of the film in a conventional commentary sense and so talk more of personal exploits and their forthcoming (at the time of recording) involvement with the Gumball Rally. Indeed, it’s the kind of chat track you’ll either love or hate, though Premier Asia must at least be complemented for attempting something a little out of the ordinary.
The pair also appear on the one of the second disc’s featurettes. Entitled ‘Drift Kings’, this sees Joyce and Warren, and sundry others, drift around a race track and offer a little bit of PR for the aforementioned Gumball participation. As with the commentary, it’ll either interest you or not, but then if not there’s plenty of other material on the disc.
Primarily we find an impressive roster of interviews with the majority of major players: Lau, Mak, co-writer Felix Chong (who also worked on the Infernal Affairs movies), and eight cast members. Admittedly some are of the puff piece variety, but the sheer volume of information does provide some interesting morsels. We learn, for example, of how Anthony Wong set about “acting Japanese” or the immense problems to be had in obtaining the rights to such a beloved manga.
A 20-minute ‘Making Of’ also appears, though disappointing this is made up, for the most part, of snippets from the above interviews. The only real additions are the expected film clips and B-roll footage. Elsewhere, the disc also throws up seven minutes from Initial D’s press conference, sundry trailers and, oddly, a promo spot for the Ministry of Sound CD! (It’s ‘Maximum Bass 2’, in case you’re interested.)