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Original Title:
Tau man ji D

Hong Kong 2005


Andrew Lau
Alan Mak

Jay Chou
Chapman To
Edison Chen
Shawn Yue
Anthony Wong
Anne Suzuki
Jordan Chan
Kenny Bee

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Initial D

Story: Takumi (Jay Chou) is a quiet, seclusive high school student, who has a part time job at a gas station with his loudmouthed friend Itsuki (Chapman To).
One day, street racer Ryosuke (Edison Chen) shows up at the local gas station, because he is searching for the so-called "Racing God" known to be around the gas station. Of course, it's Itsuki who spread these rumours about himself, but as it proves in the following racing match, Itsuki's racing skills are at best ridiculous.
One morning Takumi delivers some tofu-orders for his constantly drunk father Bunta (Anthony Wong) in his AE86 Toyota Trueno, as he always does. At the fist opportunity he outruns Ryosuke with ease, who now is desperately looking for this mysterious driver. Takumi, however, doesn't say a thing, because he is not interested in participating in racing matches. He is quite more interested in the girl Natsuki (Anne Suzuki), who herself did cast an eye at him for already a while now.
As time goes by, and when arrogant professional Race-Driver (Jordan Chan) turns up, Takumi's ambition suddenly is awakened and he eventually accepts the challenge to drive against Takeshi (Shawn Yue). It seems as if Takumi finally realizes that he is destined to be a race driver...

Review: Quite frankly, my expectations weren't really high. A racing movie based on a manga, featuring protagonists who despite their Japanese names are played almost entirely by Chinese actors, and moreover the film marks the debut for Taiwanese Popstar Jay Chou in a lead role. This is just supposed to be fast, trifling and loud popcorn cinema one might think - and yeah, it's exactly that. Director-duo Andrew Lau and Alan Mak at least didn't disappoint in that respect, but one still really has to wonder why of all movies they had to shoot a racing movie, after delivering their masterpiece "Infernal Affairs".

It's always a risky thing to try to put a whole manga series into a 110 minute film. Of course there have to be made some compromises in favor for the right pacing. Some of the characters come up a bit too short, the story is simplified and the fan of the original might feel that there is missing way too much. Luckily, I didn't know the manga before this movie (and still don't), so I'm not the right one to blame the producers for their possible wrongings. Fans of the original, however, will be disappointed here and there, because characters like Blunta surely did undergo some serious changes. Or at least that's what I heard.
Storywise there is not much to talk about, but the excellent racings can make up for that. Apart from that, there is a strange interwoven love story between Takumi and Natsuki. Strange that is, because it suddenly comes to an unexpected end and the dark secret that is surrounding Natsuki is, to put it mildly, also not intriguing. That's unfortunate, because there was a good potential to get more out if it than this.

Anyway, naturally it all revolves around the racing matches and these are in fact shot beautifully and impressively. Numerous drifts, fast cuts, panorama shots and nice artistic tricks please the eye. There are several splitscreens, pictures in pictures and blendings from one scene to another that lay emphasis on the comic style of the movie. However, what works out great in the adrenaline-pumping racing sequences just feels out of place in the more quiet scenes. Jumping pictures every other second and the already mentioned splitscreens can't really succeed in doing anything else than looking rather odd in these moments.
The stunt team did a great job, too. The racing matches all look very cool, offer the needed amount of speed, the drivers also know their craft and even the racing tracks on Mt. Akina have been chosen very well. Here you will find anything a Racer-fan could ask for: hairpin curves, tunnels and unwillingly taken short-cuts past the guard rail to a level below.
Also on other occassions the directors prove that they have a hand for good visuals. Their movie is fully customized for the "Need for Speed" Generation. Appropriately the music has its focus mainly on Hip-Hop, Rock and Techno.

Interestingly enough there is nothing much to criticize concerning the actors. Jay Chou in his first real leading role is doing a convincing job. This is mainly, because the script wisely doesn't demand too much of an acting effort of him. Most of the time he is sitting behind his wheel with a bored expression on his face, that could be misinterpreted by some as coolness, or he is behaving so shy in front of Natsuki that it's a pain for the viewer.
The rest of the cast is quite ok, too. Chapman To is playing the wacky and boastful comedian, naturally, Edison Chen and Shawn Yue mime cool race drivers, and Jordan Chan can be the only one who can be said of that he is playing somewhat of a "villian" in the movie.
Anne Suzuki just doesn't get enough on-screen time, but as not to be expected otherwise, Anthony Wong is stealing the show, anyway. His portrayel of a sottish former racing-pro, who is now selling tofu, is just great. Almost always lying in delirium and moreover most of the time with a fag in his mouth, he is not only responsible for some hilarious scenes, but can also imbue his character with some in-depth. It' just sad, that we don't get to see more of his relationship with his son.
No one of the characters stands in the movie's center, even not Takumi, which is not a bad choice at all, because who knows if Jay Chou would have been able to carry the film on his own shoulders alone? At least this way his debut is neat.

Racing movies never really could excite me. "Initial D" didn't change that. Such movies are just a fleeing piece of fun without any profoundness at all and this one is no exception to that rule. Some of the special effects, however, can really add to the very nice underground racing-atmosphere, namely some of the dynamic and computergenerated camera-zooms. And moreover, I have to admit that the film can really make your adrenaline running, also thanks to a well-done soundtrack.
This flick is undoubtedly made for young audiences and even if I still belong to that group, I can't oversee the fact, that "Initial D" is something you might expect from Hollywood, including the whole Popstars-stuff and loud music. From Hong Kong we are somehow still demanding something different, even if those glorious days of inventive HK-cinema seems to be long gone thanks to the thousandth romance with the Twins or similar Canto-Popstars, we somehow still hoped for something better from directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.
If you can settle for Popcorn-Cinema then it's "Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride" with this solid street racer movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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