On this day in 2001, “The Fast and the Furious,” a crime drama based in the underground world of street racing in Southern California, debuts in theaters across the United States.
In the film, directed by Rob Cohen, Paul Walker starred as Brian O’Connor, an undercover cop who infiltrates the illegal late-night racing scene in Los Angeles to catch a gang suspected of hijacking big-rig trucks to get the parts to outfit their souped-up cars. As the movie opens, O’Connor is practicing his high-speed driving in order to blend in with his targets; his vehicle is a bright green 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse, which he powers through an empty parking lot near Dodger Stadium. Later on, O’Connor loses the title to the Mitsubishi to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the leader of the gang of suspected thieves, after a street race. Toretto, the reigning “king of the streets,” dominates the competition in his powerful fire-engine red 1993 Mazda RX-7 Twin Turbo. In another scene, Toretto drives a hulking vintage 1969/1970 Dodge Charger.
These were just three of the cars featured prominently in the high-speed, high-impact racing scenes that punctuate “The Fast and the Furious.” The screenplay for the film was based on an article about the street-racing scene titled “Racer X,” written by Kenneth Li and published in Vibe magazine in 1998. Street racing (an illegal practice that should not be confused with drag racing, which is a popular sport most commonly done on a track, along a straight “drag” strip) began in the early 1990s on the roads and highways of Southern California, mostly among young Asian Americans, but quickly spread; Li’s article chronicled the adventures of a racer living in New York City. Like many street racers, the characters in “The Fast and the Furious” favor low-slung Acura Integras, Honda Civics, and other common Japanese-made compact cars that are modified so that they can reach speeds of around 160 mph.
Despite mixed reviews from critics, “The Fast and the Furious” was an unexpected hit at the box office. It spawned three sequels: “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003), “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006) and “Fast & Furious” (2009), in which the four main co-stars of the first film–Walker, Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster–all reprised their roles.