March 14, 2006

INITIAL D (2005) - Region 3 HK - DVD review

INITIAL D (2005, live action, Hong Kong)
2-DVD DTS Region 3 HK boxset (Megastar Video release)

FILM REVIEW (no spoilers):
A young petrol station cleaner with a drunken dad, is secretly the fastest thing on four wheels in the local street-racing community.

This film is all about driving. Impossibly slick driving. I thought the only way they could drive cars the way they do in the anime version, was to use computer effects. I was wrong - they just recruited real-life "drift-racers" - drivers who can go round twisty mountain roads skidding sideways all the way! The behind-the-scenes video footage shows how they didn't need to fake it.

A likeable cast, a little gritty drama, some unchallenging characters (visually faithful to the manga), and some rather more scuzzy behaviour than one sees in the average Japanese movie. That's because this famous Japanese anime has been adapted as a live-action film by a Hong Kong cast and crew. The best character in INITIAL D is played by the most recognisable actor, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang (also seen in INFERNAL AFFAIRS, THE HEROIC TRIO and as the serial killer in the exceptionally gruesome THE UNTOLD STORY).

Other plus-points for the cinematography, which is beautiful (some great shots of hillsides with distant trees being illuminated by car headlights). Athletic, state of the art camerawork is supplemented by some impossible CG-assisted moves (there's a great transition from a shot of a car in a rear-view mirror). Some flashy split-screen editing helps you tell the various races apart. It's not so much 'cutting edge' as stylishly done.

I was disappointed that the music wasn't as J-Pop as the anime series. It was mostly uninspiring rap in english. I was also disappointed that all the races in the movie took place on the same mountain road.

If this movie was made in England it would probably be called BOY RACERS. It's like THE FAST AND FURIOUS but with no sex, violence, or car crashes! Just lots of racing around winding mountain roads - but I guess that's what INITIAL D is all about - the driving. FAST AND FURIOUS 3 is set in Tokyo - the street settings are going to provide very exciting backdrops, but I doubt that tofu, or many other facets of Japanese culture, will figure heavily in the plot.

The movie is presented 2.35 anamorphic (a 2.35 letterbox within an anamorphic 16:9 frame) with optional DTS 5.1 audio and well-translated optional english subtitles.

The picture was not very crisp in places, suffering some compression problems. The DTS audio was very directional, crisp dialogue (though most of it sounded post-synched) and full bass response.

The second DVD contains a dozen making of featurettes, a promotional racetrack display of stunt driving, cast interviews, out-takes and deleted scenes. The behind the scenes footage shows that the astonishing driving in the film wasn't faked, they really do can take corners like that! Some of the ingenious state-of-the-art camera rigs are shown too - one miniature crane is attached to the lead car and has it's (bright yellow) rigging removed digitally afterwards - giving the impression that a floating camera has somehow been locked floating over the car! No english subs on the second disc though.

As this may be getting a cinema release in the UK (news from Hong Kong Legends and 24framespersecond), I'm reposting this review here.


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