Directed by: Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak | 106 minutes | action, drama, romance | Actors: Shawn Yue, Edison Chen, Jay Chou, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Chapman To, Tsuyoshi Abe, Anne Suzuki, Kenny Bee, Liu Keng Hung, Jordan Chan, Kiyohiko Ueki, Kazuo Yashiro, Miki Kuroiwa, Megumi Seitone, Sayaka Takizawa
For us Westerners, the temptation is great to place all films from other cultures in the arthouse box in advance; Asian products, in particular, are easy prey because of their different pace and philosophy of life; perhaps also the fact that what comes through to us in films from the East is mainly intended for a small and sophisticated audience.
However, we must make an exception for “Initial D” by Hong Kong filmmakers Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak (“Infernal Affairs”). “Initial D” is a real teen film, with conflicts between young and old, budding love and a flashy activity like street racing; it is not only because of the directors’ reputation that the film deserves some attention. The target group of “Initial D” is taken seriously to such an extent that our audience films can still suck an edge. In terms of originality, “Initial D” is not a “Rebel without a Cause”, but it can still pass the comparison. Protagonist Takumi is a mild-mannered boy who is too overwhelmed, especially by his father, who has turned into a boozy cynic after the death of Takumi’s mother; his best friend Itsuki, who calls Jan and everyone else gay, but – it is suggested – there might be one himself, dominates him. Takumi finds an outlet in street racing. Apart from that, there is the love that the bold Natsuki (Anne Suzuki) conceives for him, a fact that fascinates Takumi but also confuses him, especially when she turns out to be not as innocent as the romantic scenes at the outset suggest.
The Japanese – mainly played by Chinese actors – youngsters in “Initial D” are all stumbling adolescents and yet the film also manages to convince with tough action, especially due to the tight and sharp images of the descents on the mountain road. A downside is the slightly blasted attitude of protagonist Jay Chou when he is behind the wheel; Takumi’s sad appearance is clearly less appropriate in the action scenes. With the necessary humor – although not always as profound – and appealing character actors like Anthony Wong, the right balance is nevertheless found; more than in a film intended for a comparable audience like “Costa”, where a potentially nice story turns into a popularity poll.
The end of “Initial D” is more considerate: Takumi will be a success, but not without a black edge. It is delivered subtly and that is the key to making this film enjoyable for an older audience; perhaps factors such as identification and private humor are a stumbling block to the release of public films from distant continents here, but “Initial D” certainly deserves a place with the DVD farmer.