When Universal Pictures launched The Fast and the Furious into the 2001 summer movie season, its expectations were modest. The film was modestly budgeted by studio standards and the biggest star involved was Vin Diesel and, back then, he wasn't that big. But street racing was getting a lot of press attention, the popularity of the modified import cars was obviously exploding, and there's always an audience for car chases. This was a movie designed to be profitable even with modest box office success. It wasn't supposed to be a blockbuster.
But The Fast and the Furious busted blocks anyhow. The film industry, and even Universal Studios itself, was flabbergasted by the $207 million in worldwide ticket sales the original film earned. And what does a studio do when its exploitation picture becomes a big hit? It exploits it again, and the 2003 sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, brought in another $236 million. Throw in fast and furious DVD sales and a third installment was inevitable.
That third Fast and Furious film (a title hasn't been decided on, but
Fast and Furious 3 or The Fast and the Furious 3 will work for now) is currently in preproduction with filming scheduled to begin this fall. A script has been written, and a director hired. The story this time follows "Shaun Boswell" from the U.S. street racing subculture over to the world of Japanese drifting. Neither Vin Diesel (who co-starred in the first film, but not the second) nor Paul Walker (who co-starred in both) will appear in the movie.
"For his first unsuccessful foray in drift racing," Universal revealed in a press release announcing the new film's inevitability, "Shaun unknowingly takes on D.K., the 'Drift King,' with ties to the Yakuza, the Japanese crime machine. The only way he can pay off the debt of his loss is to venture into the deadly realm of the Tokyo underworld, where the stakes are life and death."
But before the first reel of film can be shot, director Justin Lin needs car. Lots of cars. Fast and furious cars. The 32-year-old director who earned his reputation with 2002's Sundance hit, Better Luck Tomorrow, began his search for the right machines at Irwindale Speedway east of Los Angeles this past June.
A Day in Irwindale
Dennis McCarthy, the vehicle coordinator for the new production quickly brought together tuner cars, production cars and modified cars from individuals from around Southern California for Lin to consider for roles in the movie.
"I called some people I knew," said McCarthy, "and in a few days they all showed up." The cars, about 30 in all, including many cars from the second film 2 Fast 2 Furious, were gathered in the parking lot alongside the track's main grandstand with 60 or so attending owners and hangers-on.
With the third film set in both Southern California and Japan, the production's automotive needs are eclectic. Mike Walsh, the owner of Premiere Studio Rentals, which provides vehicles to film and television productions, brought out both a clapped-out '71 Monte Carlo for scenes early in the film and a beautiful '70 Dodge Challenger R/T convertible that had made its film debut in 1994's Natural Born Killers. R.J. DeVera, who had a small part in the first
Fast and Furious, brought with him three different Nissan 350Zs — all looking particularly sweet sitting on wheels from DeVera's company, Ro_Ja. And Rhys Millen, who interrupted his drifting career to be the primary driver of the General Lee Dodge Charger for the big screen version of
The Dukes of Hazzard, brought out an 800-horsepower twin-turbocharged version of the current Pontiac GTO.
The car companies want in, too. Mitsubishi's starring role in 2 Fast 2 Furious was seen in the industry as marketing genius. This time Dodge, Ford, General Motors, Mazda and Volkswagen want in, and brought out examples of their lineups for Lin to look over.
The automotive star of the film, however, may wind up being a rather innocuous-looking '67 Ford Mustang fastback that was lined up next to Mitch Allread's radical '68 Toyota Corona. Rumors were flying among the participants there that the car was destined to wind up with the drivetrain from a Nissan Skyline GT-R — including its twin-turbocharged inline six — under its sheet metal as an important plot point in the film. But rumors fly when facts are few, and the filmmakers themselves are keeping quiet.
Getting the Drift
But the star of the show was the drifting exhibition.
Once McCarthy had walked Justin Lin around to see all the various cars in the parking lot (all of which was carefully recorded on video by Universal for use in publicity and on the DVD), the producers and director moved to the grandstands and the drifters moved onto the track.
Team Toyo was out first with its 2005 Ford Mustang GT drift machine powered by a 2004 Mustang Cobra supercharged DOHC, 32-valve, 4.6-liter V8 and driven by Ken Gushi. As Gushi pirouetted the car around the Irwindale infield spewing off clouds of tire smoke, one of the film's producers was heard saying, "We've got to get us a really good tire deal."
Then Millen showed the drifting talents of an unmodified GTO and a production Corvette for the benefit of General Motors, and both cars looked impressive. But their muffled exhaust notes couldn't match the rumbling V8 glory of Gushi's uncorked Mustang or the turbocharged scream of Team Toyo Drift's Nissan 240SX.
If there's one thing drifting is, it's dramatic, and by the looks on the director's and producers' faces, it's clear they were mightily impressed. We'll find out which cars at the audition make it into the film when filming begins, and we'll find out if drifting, the Yakuza and a venture into the deadly realm of the Tokyo underworld pay off at the box office next summer.