Looking back, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift probably should have been the death throes of the Fast franchise. It’s never a good sign when the third movie of a franchise loses all its headline stars and, instead, starts over with basically a cast of relative unknowns.
Instead of starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (Diesel didn’t even appear in the second installment), the film stars Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, a high school student who is sent to live with his father in Tokyo after getting in trouble with the law for racing back in Arizona. In most cases, this is a signal that your movie franchise is about over. (Obviously, now here we are five movies later, the franchise wasn’t over.) Directed by Justin Lin (who would direct three more of these after),Tokyo Drift grossed $158 million, which was down significantly from the other two films, but was enough to keep everything going. And, maybe most importantly, it gave us Sung Kang’s Han Lue, who died in the movie, but then came back for the fourth movie – a plot point not explained until the ending of the sixth installment.
Chris Morgan’s first time taking a crack at writing a Fast script was Tokyo Drift, and he has written all the Fast movies since, including this week’s The Fate of the Furious.
“Originally, I started as a fan,” says Morgan today when reminiscing about Tokyo Drift. “I went to see the original film at a late-night showing. I just loved that brotherhood between Dom and Brian. And then I got asked to do the third movie.”
And as Morgan remembers, the producers didn’t really know exactly where to take the franchise next and were looking for ideas, “There was an open writing call for the third film. I think originally I came in and pitched. Essentially it was Tokyo Drift, but it was with Vin, and his character kind of had to go out and learn drifting. And there was a murder he had to solve.”
So the original idea was for Vin Diesel to reprise his role as the star of Tokyo Drift, but as we know that wasn’t going to happen – Diesel had already turned down the second installment to star in xXx.
Morgan remembers, “And they said, ‘Nah, can’t do that. We have to do high school.’ And so the movie became what the movie was. I was really proud of it. And the audience, they came to see it. A lot of people liked it. It kind of did the worst of all the films.”
But Justin Lin and Chris Morgan had an ace of their sleeve: Vin Diesel agreed to appear in a cameo at the end of the film. “It is so funny,” says Morgan. “It could have been the death throes, and then thankfully, the thing that kind of saved us was that we got Vin at the very end of the movie to come in and kind of hint where we’re going to go in the future.”
It something that signaled, yes, this movie might be a reboot of sorts, but your favorite characters might be making a return. Morgan explains, “That moment at the end, everyone’s like, ‘Oh my God, what does this mean? Are they going to do something else?’ And that gave us the ammo to go in and do the fourth one, which led us to do the fifth and the sixth and the seventh and the eighth. So it all kind of built from there.”
And, again, it introduced us to fan favorite Han Lue (aka Han Seoul-Oh). “We got Han,” says Morgan. “I mean, thank god we got Sung Kang, you know? I mean, look, we altered the timeline of our entire franchise pretty much for Sung, because we loved him so much, to be able to hold onto him for a few movies longer.”
We now know that the events of Tokyo Drift take place between the sixth and seventh installments of the Fast franchise. And literally no explanation was given about Han being back in the fourth movie after dying in the third one.
“And nobody asked! Nobody asked,” says Morgan.
Well, eventually they asked. “But, when they did ask, we’re like, no, no, no, here’s how it works: Look, the timeline is, you know, it’s one-two-four-five-six-three-seven, right? That’s how it works.”
God bless these movies.
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