Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Cast: Jay Chou, Anthony Wong, Chapman To, Edison Chen, Anne Suzuki, Shawn Yue, Jordan Chan, Kenny Bee
While the summer box office in Hong Kong continued to recess this year, Initial D nevertheless easily captured the title of the highest grossing domestic film of the summer, followed by Tsai Hark's epic swordplay movie Seven Swords and the extravagantly casted Mob Sister.
Initial D is not an easy movie to criticize. On the one hand, every part of the film, from the screenplay, direction, to acting, and from art direction, special effects to sound, is carefully and professionally handled, that you could not easily spot an explicit error; But then it is also hard to recall any specific moment that is worth a praise. If you look closely, you may wonder if the love affair between the two leads is too blatant? Or if the car racing scenes are getting repetitive? It just seems that there are some little flaws here and there throughout the movie, but luckily, you also wouldn't find them very disturbing when you are seeing it.
Just as many people know, Initial D is movie adaptation of a Japanese comic. Despite some minor modification of the characters, like, in the comic, Itsuki (Chapman To) is supposed to be only a worker at the gas station, but now he becomes the son of the station owner, the movie generally follows the original as faithful as possible. Some characters do carry physical resemblance with the comic characters, while some do not. But fortunately, the good thing about this movie adaptation is that it succeeds in capturing the spirit of the original, especially the positive attitude of the characters and their pure passions in car racing.
Compared to director Andrew Lau's previous car racing movie Legend of Speed, in which the plot is highly cliched with some hackneyed elements of gangster genre, what is good about Initial D is that Lau didn't attempt to turn it into another car racing version of Young and Dangerous. He and his collaborator Alan Mak instead sticked with the original comic and presented a very bright and clean story about some ambitious young men pursuing their dreams. The portrayal of the characters are much more positive than expected. Although these young men are passionate about car racing, they always understand the rules of the game well and rarely try to cross the borderline. For instance, they only do car racing at midnight, and they also try to "close" the roads before they begin, and most importantly, they always respect each other and avoid any emotional conflicts or aversion during the competition. It is all about the car racing after all.
Apart from the characterization, what most people care is probably the the major component of the story, that is, the car racing scenes. In this regard, the production team has pulled off a wonderful job. According to the production information, a lot of the car stunts were performed by professional Japanese car racers, while some are obviously special effects. The combination of the two approaches works very well and shows a big improvement if you compare it with old movies like Legend of Speed. The only drawback is that some of the scenes seem to be quite repetitive, especially the camera angles and editing. In terms of creativity, there is still a lot of room for further innovation. Narrative-wise, as I mentioned above, the love plot between Takumi (Jay Chou) and Natsuki (Anne Suzuki) is rather weak, while the two father and son relationships, that is, Takumi/Bunta (Anthony Wong) and Itsuki/Yuichi (Kenny Bee), are way more impressive and funny.
Although Initial D is a Japanese comic, the entire cast, with the exception of Anne Suzuki as the female lead, is mainly composed of Chinese actors. Perhaps it isn't really an uncommon practice, like, Jackie Chan also used to play the role of City Hunter Ryo before, it is nevertheless quite awkward to hear the characters calling each other's Japanese name in Cantonese. Jay Chou as Takumi is no doubt a good casting choice. Although he doesn't really look like the comic Takumi in physical form, his attitude and gestures do make you feel so. However, looking cool and acting dumb are different, one of the biggest problems of Chou's performance is that, while he is capable of bringing out the reserved personality of the character, he simply fails to convince the audiences that he is also shrewd implicitly. The result is a rather dull and plain portrayal with no transcendence throughout the entire movie. He definitely needs to take some acting class if he wants to further his career in the acting department. Female lead Anne Suzuki is another weak link, despite her lack of appearance in the movie, she doesn't look anything, both physical and spiritual, like the comic Natsuki at all. Apart from that, the rest of the cast is great and they have all done their parts well.
Overall speaking, Initial D is certainly not a big flop, but then it also fails to offer any great surprise, especially with all the expectations and hypes surrounding it. Now that Hong Kong filmmakers have proved to the audiences that they are capable of handling big budget commercial films without a problem, perhaps it is time to consider spending more effort to train up the screenwriting and acting talents, so that Hong Kong cinema could revive its competitive power in Asia.
Reviewed by: Kantorates