The three key creatives behind “Infernal Affairs” — co-directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, plus scripter Felix Chong — return driving a very different set of wheels in “Initial D.” Super-slick street-racing pic, based on a Nipponese manga series and set in Japan, is aimed squarely at the East Asian market, which it has conquered in spades since late June release. First starring vehicle for Taiwan pop star Jay Chou, supported by a raft of young and seasoned Hong Kong talent plus a sprinkling of Japanese names, has almost no marketability in the West, except as a remake.
In its first month in Hong Kong alone, film has revved to almost HK$40 million ($5 million). Asiaphile auds who recognize the players may respond to its easy charm, ensemble playing and inventive CGI.
Takumi Fujiwara (Chou), an 18-year-old high schooler, has a part-time job at a gas station run by Yuuichi (Kenny Bee), father of his best friend, Itsuki (Chapman To, supplying most of the pic’s dumb humor). Takumi’s dad, Bunta (Anthony Wong), had a promising career as a racing driver before getting married and setting up a tofu business; since his wife left him, he’s been hitting the bottle and occasionally his son.
Takumi has become a whiz at navigating the hairpin bends on Mt. Akina while delivering tofu in his dad’s Toyota, but doesn’t seem keen on becoming a street-racing champ. More interested in dating student cutie Natsuki (Anne Suzuki, from “Hana and Alice” and “Returner”), he does race the arrogant Takeshi (Shawn Yu) in a challenge.
Finally, his father and Natsuki convince Takumi to participate in a three-way race down the mountain road against Takeshi and racing pro Kyoichi (Jordan Chan).
The largely Hong Kong cast doesn’t remotely convince as Japanese in either their body language or humor. But, the movie is for Chinese fans of the manga, to which Chong’s script adheres closely in spirit even if a lot of background and side detail have necessarily disappeared. (End credits note that pic is NOT based on the spin-off Japanese anime.)
Fortunately, Law and Mak have surrounded the low-key, almost invisible Chou with a lively ensemble — several playing well below their real ages — to which veterans Wong and Kenny Bee bring some needed color. CGI is aces without being overpowering, and widescreen lensing clean and always well-composed. Though there’s some chat about rotary turbos and such, film is pitched above an auto-geek level.