Monday, November 14, 2005

Mini-Review: Initial D

Two things that should describe any film on street car racing: "exciting" and "cool." Both could easily be said about Tau man chi D (Initial D), one of the better manga adaptations and Hong Kong films to come out recently. Though I haven't read a single volume of the manga or watched a single episode of the anime, and even if I'm not very interested in this sport, I feel that the film was able to capture the excitement and thrill that enthusiasts undoubtedly get when racing or watching someone else do so. This the directors, Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak (Infernal Affairs) were able to do without resorting to overly fancy and dizzying special effects that other directors who adapt manga or anime tend to incorporate into their films to less than flawless effect. There are special effects, but they merge almost seamlessly with the intense action of the actual cars racing. In the parts where they are obvious, the effects only serve to emphasize the power of the vehicles, which could be said to be as much the stars of the film as the actors.

Jay Chou holds his own as lead Takumi Fukiwara, effectively seeming bored when he needs to project that initially non-plussed but increasingly passionate attitude about racing. This role does not require that he overact, and he doesn't. Hong Kong heartthrobs Edison Chen and Shawn Yue have small but important supporting roles that they manage to handle well, and Chapman To is a source of a lot of laughs as he nearly always is, but it is Anthony Wong who, just as often, steals the show. He is extremely effective as a constantly drunk (or otherwise just unstable) former racing god who seems to not care about his son but, as is often the case, actually does. This film just solidifies Wong's status as a brilliant actor, particularly in supporting roles.

Plot-wise, the film has a simple story detailing the rise of Fukiwara as a race car driver and the beginnings of the Initial D storyline in the anime. Though it was clear from the start that the romantic angle would not be the focus of the film, the way it is (un)resolved at the end is not as smooth as I would have preferred. The direction, with key scenes being emphasized with brief stop-motion, can be distracting at times, in the worst cases a bit jarring, and may lead you to think that the disc is skipping in the player. But as a whole, the film is a real treat even for those who are not fans of the anime (or anime in general). The ending begs for a sequel, which I am now eagerly looking forward to.

Grade: B
FYC: Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Wong), Best Sound Mixing


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