Drive (1997) 4K UHD Review
Blu-ray Release: September 13, 2022
Video: 2.35:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision, Director’s Cut) & 1080p (Original Cut)/Color
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 117:50 (Director’s Cut)/99:48 (Original Cut)
Director: Steve Wang
Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos) is on a martial arts mission: impossible. With a bio-energy module placed on his chest, Toby's awesome martial arts skills are tuned to a super-human level. The only problem is that Toby doesn't want the power. Now, only an army can stop him and that's just what's hunting him down. As he makes his escape from an ammo-packing posse of hitmen, Toby needs a hostage, Malik (Kadeem Hardison), to drive him to freedom in Los Angeles. (From MVD Rewind’s official synopsis)
American studios and independent filmmakers have long attempted to make their own Hollywoodized versions of Asian-based martial arts movies to varying degrees of success. Three things these movies tended to have in common were modest budgets, smaller scales, and lack of critical approval. In the ‘70s, the grindhouse/drive-in market was fed by Jim Kelly blaxploitation and Chuck Norris vehicles, followed by a long-lived ninjasploitation boom, a tsunami of ‘80s superstar martial artists – like Steven Segal and Jean-Claude van Damme – and the American Ninja, Best of the Best, and Bloodfist franchises, which began in theaters and moved straight to video. Big budgets and critical acclaim finally arrived at the beginning of the new millennium, following the Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999) and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (an American/Chinese co-production, 2000), but, just before that, a scrappy, comic book-like action comedy called Drive (1997) was doomed to drastic, last-minute cuts and straight-to-video (and cable) distribution by producers who didn’t know what they had and how soon it would be relevant to the blockbuster market.
Drive (not to be confused with the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn movie) was directed by Taiwan-born, American-raised creature effects artist turned filmmaker Steve Wang. He worked under special effects royalty, including Rick Baker and Stan Winston, then graduated to co-director alongside Screaming Mad George (aka: Joji Tani) for the American live-action adaptation of Yoshiki Takaya’s Guyver manga and anime in 1991. He took over solo directing duties on the sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero (1994). Dark Hero dialed up the action and violence, while dialing down the elaborate transformation sequences and is essentially an R-rated take on the Super Sentai/Power Rangers model. This took Wang back to his childhood, when he grew up watching and loving tokusatsu superhero TV shows. Years after Drive, Wang returned to Japanese-style superhero suit action when he created, produced, and occasionally directed an American revamp of the Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight (2008-2010). You can still see the roots of the Guyver movies in Drive’s comic book excesses and the mechanical creature effects of the in-universe television drama, Walter the Einstein Frog.
Drive incorporated aspects of tokusatsu (minus the costumes), contemporary Hollywood buddy comedies, and a late-’80s/early-’90s brand of Hong Kong kung-fu. It’s a cosmopolitan action movie that is very much of its era, yet entirely unique, because no one else had ever really tried to combine these specific elements. Again, it didn’t help matters that Drive was entirely overshadowed by a different kind of Japanese/Hollywood/Hong Kong sci-fi fusion in The Matrix a couple of years later. More pertinently, perhaps, some fans/critics have also compared it to Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour (1998), which was also an American-made, Hong Kong style co-starring a Black actor. I think that’s a slightly regressive comparison, given that Mark Dacascos had nowhere near the star power of Jackie Chan (not to mention that he’s an American-born actor, not a Chinese actor breaking through to American audiences) and that, Blackness aside, Hardison is playing a very different character than Chris Tucker. I must also stress that Drive is a science fiction film, not a buddy cop movie. Still, it’s fair to assume that, if it had been released, just two years later, even straight-to-video, Drive probably wouldn’t have taken a decade to catch on. Acknowledging that, again, the star level of the actors doesn’t quite match up, Jet Li’s early 2000s Hollywood career is proof alone that combining Black leads with Hong Kong martial arts legends could turn a tidy profit on a modest budget. Dacascos himself even showed up in one of them (Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Cradle 2 the Grave, 2003).
Wang never quite had the career he deserved, but has continued working in special effects and art direction, most recently supervising robot art direction for Dean Parisot’s Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020). Dacascos wasn’t a superstar, but never faded from public view, making B and A-list movies in the US, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, and France, not to mention a stint as The Chairman for Iron Chef America (2004-2018) and a regular role on Marvel’s Agents of Shield (2015-16). Arguably, his two best post-Drive appearances were in Christophe Gans’ action/horror costume epic Brotherhood of the Wolf (French: Le Pacte des Loups, 2001) and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). Kadeem Hardison’s career had slowed following the cancellation of A Different World (1987-93), a hit Cosby Show sitcom spin-off where he starred alongside Jasmine Guy, after Cosby star Lisa Bonet left the show. Arguably, much of his long-term appeal (as he still makes regular TV appearance) is due to the cult nature of works, like Drive, Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988), Keenen Ivory Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and two different Black-led vampire movies, James Bond III’s Def by Temptation (1990) and Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1995). The film’s third lead, Brittany Murphy, also had her share of cult performances. Had Drive been released theatrically just two or three years later, her name probably would’ve topped the marquee listing and she would have deserved it, because she’s fantastic as a sort of live-action version of her Luanne character from King of the Hill.
Drive was cut by about 18 minutes for its video/cable debut. None of the cuts were for rating or content purposes; the producers apparently just wanted a shorter movie with less character development. The original US DVD was not only the shorter version, but it was cropped to 1.33:1. It wasn’t until the film hit DVD in the UK that fans could finally import a complete version in anamorphic widescreen, albeit in PAL and region-locked, and German discs would follow suit. In May of 2021, MVD Rewind released the first HD version of the film, taken from a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative. 88 Films released their UK exclusive BD in June of this year, followed by a 4K UHD in August and this US version of that UHD the following month. From what I understand – and I could be wrong – all BDs and UHDs transfers are taken from the same source.
I cannot take 4K screencaps, so I’ve instead included samples from the 1080p transfer to illustrate the general clarity of its 2160p counterpart. I suppose it goes without saying that this is a vast improvement on the PAL director’s cut DVD and SD streaming versions of the original cut. Image quality is tight and lines are sharp without haloes. Grain levels change notably, depending on lighting and location, but not in an artificial way that implies errors in mastering or authoring. Print damage is minimal with just enough scratches and dirt to let you know you’re watching a film-based movie. Despite the finer detail and cleanliness that the doubled resolution offers, the big difference between the two versions is, as per usual, the HDR boost makes the biggest difference between the two releases. For the most part, this is a good thing with the UHD offering more vivid colors and richer blacks, thanks to the increased dynamic range. It really helps during low-light shots, which look fine in HD, great in 4K, and like complete mud on the old DVD. On the other hand, the HDR also overloads some lighter hues, occasionally leaving skin tones and skies a little too white, and flattens some of the more neutral shadows. Overall, if you’re happy with the 1080p disc, stick with it, but, if you haven’t already purchased either remastered version, go with this UHD disc for its improvements.
Drive is presented with a brand new Dolby Atmos option as well as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0. The original film was mixed for 5.1 and set for a DTS/Dolby Digital theatrical release that never happened, so this isn’t a major remix. I don’t have a full Atmos setup, but, even with only five channels and a single subwoofer, the Atmos track is the louder and cleaner experience, including clearer dialogue and better atmosphere. Either option is good, though, and there’s plenty of fun, over-cranked late-’90s digital surround excess. Each cut has a different score: the preferred director’s cut features composer David Williams’ mix of industrial pop, synth, and blues-rock, while the shorter cut features a more aggressive techno score, credited to Walter Werzowa. I personally like a lot of the maligned Werzowa music, but don’t miss it when watching the extended cut.
Original/producer’s cut of the film (99:46, 1080p HD, not 4K)
Commentary by director Steve Wang, fight choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, and stars Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison (director’s cut only) – This silly, fun, and ultimately very informative archival track was originally recorded for the special edition UK DVD. Wang takes the lead, while Dacascos and Hardison interject amusing anecdotes between behind-the-scenes factoids.
Drive: The Force Behind The Storm documentary (47:42, SD) – This featurette also premiered on the UK DVD and is constructed sort of like an EPK, similar to what you’d see from a lot of early generation DVD extras. It’s tonally kind of quaint (for lack of a better word), but easily covers the most important aspects of the production, and includes plenty of cast & crew interviews.
Highway to Nowhere: Jason Tobin & Drive (20:01, HD) – This new 88 Films-produced interview features the Fast and the Furious franchise actor and consistent Justin Lin collaborator discussing his training, career, and work as a professional extra in LA, including a stint on Drive.
Six deleted scenes (8:42, SD) – These are presented in an incomplete state and in raw, full-frame SD.
Interview gallery including Mark Dacascos, Steven Wang, Wyatt Reed, Koichi Sakamoto, and Kadeem Hardison (24:41, SD) – These were also originally included with the UK DVD.
The images on this page are taken from the remastered MVD Blu-ray, NOT the 4K UHD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.