As mentioned in Part One of this Freak the Geek miniseries, I think there’s a scene that Justin Lin lifted directly from Hitchcock while making The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. (No harm nor foul, it's just artistic license.) It comes from To Catch a Thief.
But to get there and see the connection, let's back up a bit. Often dismissed as Hitchcock’s greatest puff piece, To Catch a Thief is all about the chase. Everyone in this movie is either pursuing someone, or they’re being pursued: Grace Kelly chases flirtatiously after Cary Grant, who's chasing down the bad guys who’ve framed him for a series of robberies. Everyone from the cops to an organized crime ring are are after someone or something.
Naturally, this movie has all kinds of literal chases—on foot, by boat and by car. As Rope's Phillip drunkenly says: “Cat and mouse, cat and mouse, but who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?” Watch the video above and see for yourself how the speeding scenes in the hills above Monaco match up rather closely with those staged by Justin Lin in the hills above Tokyo.
Another Hitchcockian connectionHere’s something else that Lin has in common with Hitchcock. For most of his career, critics thought of Hitch as just another reliably good entertainer. He never even won an Oscar, for crying out loud. It wasn’t until later on that the French (always the French!) started to recognize him for the genius he was.
In the same way, people tend to look at franchise movies like Fast and the Furious as mindless fluff entertainment. But in recent years, a movement has been gaining traction to reconsider the work of these so-called populist directors. It’s called the “vulgar auteur” theory—and guess what? Justin Lin’s name often figures at the top of the list. For instance, people are starting to pick up recurring themes in his films, such as dislocation from home and the tensions arising from cultural differences as evidence of a singular artistic vision.
The point is, it can be tempting to dismiss his films as less worthy of our consideration because they appeal to a mass audience. Hitch faced those prejudices in his day. Sometimes the best art of our times is hiding in plain sight. I wouldn’t necessarily put Tokyo Drift in that category, but it is an exciting film, and the framing and editing of the racing scenes have a dreamlike lucidity to them that I think Hitchcock would have appreciated. Maybe it’s time to give Justin Lin a second look.