24 Things We Learned from the Commentary for Steve Wang’s ‘Drive’

"Here's my John Woo ripoff."

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits one of the best action movies of the 1990s, Steve Wang’s Drive.

Read any list celebrating the best American action movies of the 1990s, and the usual suspects will all be there, from Terminator 2 (1991) to The Matrix (1999). You’ll know it’s a great list, though, if it has the wisdom to include Steve Wang‘s last feature as director — a crime in its own right that he hasn’t been given another one since — action/comedy Drive (1997). Fantastic and frequent fight scenes headlined by Mark Dacascos, fun stunts and explosions, and lots of legitimate laughs courtesy of Kadeem Hardison and Brittany Murphy. This movie rocks and shows what’s possible on a tiny budget.

Released straight to DVD after premiering on HBO, Drive has gone on to earn a well-earned cult following. It’s had various home video releases over the years too culminating in a slick 4K UHD from 88 Films back in 2022. Wang and his two leads recorded a commentary track for an early DVD release, so of course I gave it a listen. Now keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…

Drive (1997)

Commentators: Steve Wang (director), Koichi Sakamoto (fight coordinator), Mark Dacascos (actor), Kadeem Hardison (actor)

1. Fans of the film from seeing it on American cable might wonder why the opening music is different. The answer is because producers shortened the film for its U.S. release and made some music choices too. This extended cut features David Williams‘ original score.

2. “You’ll see a lot of Japanese guys pretending to be mafia,” says Wang over the opening credits. All of these guys are played by members of Sakamoto’s Alpha Stunts team. Sakamoto shares that they’re all Japanese and grew up watching and loving Hong Kong action movies. As of this recording from (I believe) the early 2000s, the Alpha Stunts team was handling stunt work on the Power Rangers television shows.

3. This director’s cut features the actual character motivation for Toby Wong (Dacascos) — his girlfriend — which was cut completely from “the HBO cut.” Producers/distributors felt that wasn’t needed info.

4. The opening fight scene aboard the ship was actually filmed a full month after the film had wrapped. It was a challenge for Dacascos as he had spent that time in Hawaii “eating like a pig.”

5. One of the two cops who enter the bar is played by David Hayter who would go on to write X-Men (2000), The Scorpion King (2002), Watchmen (2009), and more.

6. The car sideswipe at 12:07 actually crushed the right front wheel, knocking it off the axle, and left the car essentially dead. This was bad news for a low budget film as they needed to shoot more scenes with it the following day. Luckily, a bystander watching the filming was a mechanic and approached them after the stunt to offer his assistance. He came through, and the car was ready the next day.

7. Wang made up the shows that the bad guys are watching in the RV, and while Hardison didn’t understand what was funny about “Walter the Einstein Frog” back then, he pretends to love it now. It was originally meant to be an ape, but Overseas Film Group has a policy that no animals are allowed on their sets in order to eliminate the possibility of abuse. “I couldn’t even bring my dog on set” says Wang, and he adds that he’s seen human extras treated far worse on sets than he’s ever seen done to animals. “It was outrageous.”

8. Dacascos’ character tells a cop his name is Sammo Hung, and he went on to do an episode of Hung’s Martial Law show two years later. The Hong Kong legend told Dacascos that he and his wife had enjoyed the movie and that “you told them you were me!”

9. The quarry fight required a ton of rehearsal, and its original conception saw it lasting twice as long. Wang’s rewrites on Scott Phillips’ script described this fight featuring the two leads handcuffed together as done in the style of a 50s sock-hop. Producers loved the idea, but when it came time to film they ended up only capturing half of what they had rehearsed.

10. The car conversation after the quarry was filmed twice, with one version aiming for a PG-13 rating.

11. Wang makes a cameo during the opening ship fight, and his wife and young son do the same at 38:26.

12. Mr. Lau’s (James Shigeta) office at the Leung Corporation was a set built for the film, and after production wrapped they sold it to Babylon 5 (1993-1998). It pissed Wang off because it appeared on that show before Drive actually got released.

13. The shot at 42:33 of the Advanced Model (Masaya Katô) rolling the coin across his fingers is actually of a magician below frame reaching up in to the shot for the trick.

14. They struggled coming up with a title for the film. Turbo Drive was one early suggestion, but Wang’s reaction was “oh yeah, straight to video.”

15. Brittany Murphy couldn’t be there for the commentary recording, and Hardison says that she’s there “in spirit.” Reads different now.

16. Murphy almost missed her audition because she was sick and had low energy, “but low energy for Brittany was like me on fifteen cups of coffee.” Wang knew her from Clueless (1995) and didn’t think she looked the part, but when she showed up she looked totally different and blew them all away with her line reads and charisma. “I thought she’s cute but she’s not gonna be sexy, which is what I was looking for, I thought ‘no way is anybody gonna think she’s sexy.’ Boy, was I ever so wrong.”

17. Hardison told Murphy to call him “chocolate boy wonder,” and while Wang was worried how it would play, it ended up being a very funny beat that had some viewers gasping. That’s the reaction “from the sisters” that Hardison was after as he’s always thought of himself as chocolate boy wonder and was thrilled to have a white girl call him that on screen. Wang says that it came from Batman, but Hardison corrects him that it actually “came from Pete Rock and CL Smooth.

18. The motel assault sees the bad guys all dressed in black with ski masks, and that was in part meant as an homage to Luc Besson’s The Professional (1994). The second reason, though, was more practical as the characters are white guys but for action purposes they’re played in this scene by the Alpha Stunts team. Related, a second nod to The Professional comes towards the end when Mr. Lau is asked which implants to boost and replies “Every one!”

19. Hardison points out the stunt man doubling him at 1:35:19 — identifiable as a stunt man because his shirt rides up, and it’s clearly not a Black man underneath.

20. The end fight between Malik (Hardison) and Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) became bigger than initially intended because they realized that there had been some racial tension between the characters building up to that point. Wang and Sakamoto then decided to have Madison pull out a whip during their brawl, and it fell to Hardison to point out the deep and painful imagery at play there as they themselves just didn’t see it initially. That in turn led to him improvising the dialogue as he beats Madison’s ass. “Luckily, when it was all edited together, it wasn’t anywhere near as dark as it felt on set,” says Wang, adding that “it was certainly not my intention to go there.” Hardison understands and agrees but says “now if I was working with George Lucas, and he pulls some shit like that…” We then get a Jar Jar Binks impression as someone (I think Wang) says “Meesa gonna whip you!”

21. The film was originally going to see the fight at the Apollo 14 restaurant include lots of wire work and extend up atop the rocket itself, but budget limitations saw that scrapped.

22. Asked what their ideas for a sequel would be, various ideas are floated from female assassin models to the guys heading to Hong Kong. To that latter point, one of them says the idea was already set up in Rush Hour (1998), a film none of them suggest ripped off Drive.

23. Wang had to take a day job after filming wrapped in order to keep working on the movie’s post-production.

24. In a first for Commentary Commentary, rather than just stop abruptly or in silence, the commentary track keeps going even after the film’s credits end. They keep talking for an additional minute with just a black screen.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“These are the kind of scenes that you always get in fights with distributors about whether or not they stay in, because all they want to do is cut to the fight.”

“I’m Fred, you’re Ginger.”

“I love doing things that are quirky.”

“I’m Gary Oldman.”

“Mark can’t find the rhythm.”

“I got to cut his arm off, I couldn’t believe I was getting to do all this, I dreamed about this as a kid.”

“That’s ebony and ivory, that’s the way the world should be.”

“Here’s my John Woo ripoff.”

Final Thoughts on the Drive Commentary

When people ask me for my favorite commentary tracks the answer is usually simple — any track with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. They’re great, informative tracks, but the key to their enjoyment as commentaries is the pure, unfiltered enjoyment that Carpenter and Russell clearly share when they’re together. Their laughter and sense of fun are infectious, and while this Drive track doesn’t quite reach those highs, that same feeling is abundantly present. These guys love each other’s company, and they’re extremely funny in their observations on the film and banter back and forth. Does action-master Sakamoto fart at one point? Yes, he does, but the laughs keep rolling. Great track for a great movie, and highly recommended.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.