It’s not uncommon for action movies to feature sequences of death-defying stunts. However, while some films rely on skilled stunt work to give viewers a sense of having watched something authentic, far too many directors simply use clever editing to trick the viewer into believing an amazing action sequence. Unfortunately, these scenes aren’t as thrilling as the experience of watching stunt work that’s propelled by a sense of genuine realism.
This is why The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is one of the most remarkable entries in the successful franchise. As the name implies, this particular installment focused on a specific style of racing known as drifting. But, rather than simply relying on “The Fast and the Furious” name to attract viewers, the filmmakers behind the project went to great lengths to ensure the stunts that appeared in the film were grounded in reality.
How the Team behind Tokyo Drift Achieved Realistic Stunts
Drifting is a very unique motorsport. It’s also one that requires a significant degree of skill to do well. To put it simply, drifting involves keeping the car in a state of oversteer by manipulating the throttle, clutch, brakes, gear shifting, and steering when negotiating turns. The driver must then quickly countersteer to correct the drift that occurs when the car is in oversteer.
Obviously, this is not the kind of driving just anyone can pull off. The filmmakers could have simply decided to hire traditional stunt drivers and use editing tricks to make it appear as though they were achieving the difficult maneuvers this style of driving naturally involves. However, this wouldn’t have been as impressive when the results appeared on screen.
Instead, the team behind the picture recruited actual drifters to serve as both consultants and stunt drivers for the movie. Tanner Foust and Rhys Millen, who had shown off their drifting skills in The Dukes of Hazzard, were brought onboard to drive two of the vehicles most often featured in the picture.
However, relying on just two stunt drivers wasn’t going to allow for more complicated sequences involving multiple vehicles. Again, while the filmmakers easily could have worked around this obstacle by filming and editing the sequences in a manner that implies the action without actually showing it, they were simply too committed to filming genuinely thrilling action sequences to go that route. Thus, they relied on Millen and Foust to recruit other drifters from their network of friends and peers.
Bringing these talented experts onboard was a very smart move on the filmmakers’ part. According to behind-the-scenes reports, the professional drifters didn’t only meet the producers’ expectations, they exceeded them.
For instance, in one particular sequence, the filmmakers assumed they would have to simulate a stunt by having a vehicle run along a cable that would be concealed in the final edit. The stunt itself actually looks too unrealistic to be genuine. It involves a car achieving and maintaining such a perfect drift that it essentially drives sideways up a spiral parking garage driveway, with mere inches of space separating the front and back of the car from the walls of the ramp. In other words, it’s the kind of stunt that would almost always be performed using some form of trickery or special effects.
Despite this display of skill, Millen, one of the film’s main consultants, didn’t seem too enthusiastic about bragging when speaking to interviewers for behind-the-scenes featurettes. He claimed that the achievement he and his fellow drivers were most proud of was not damaging or destroying any vehicles during stunts unless they were directed to do so. Obviously, stunts that are difficult to perform may not go perfectly the first time. This can be expensive when it means the filmmakers need to quickly repair or replace a vehicle that was damaged in a shot when it wasn’t supposed to be. The fact that Millen appeared to understand how important caution is on a movie set speaks to his professionalism, and explains why the filmmakers chose him to work on the project.
No one can say the results aren’t impressive. In many ways, Tokyo Drift represents a style of action filmmaking that’s becoming less common as computer-generated effects grow ever-more sophisticated. This is why Tokyo Drift is still so entertaining more than a decade after its release.