Fans of the Fast and Furious franchise already know director Justin Lin. While the 49-year-old Taiwanese-born American director did not kick start the popular series, he directed the third one, Tokyo Drift (2006), and cemented the franchise as a global powerhouse with the fourth through the sixth entry, turning the American racing series into a globetrotting action/heist adventure series.
But few know that he actually introduced popular character Han Lue much earlier, in his 2002 crime drama, Better Luck Tomorrow, starring Korean-American actor/producer, Sung Kang as the fan favourite. So it’s only right that after his death in the franchise, it would take Lin’s return in the upcoming ninth installment to bring Han back to the series.
Even though Han (technically) died.
“Han is very special to me and I feel like I grew up with Han and Sung. We had gone through such a great journey so when we left I felt like ‘okay, that’s the end of our chapter with this character’,” shared Lin in a group video interview with Geek Culture.
“But when one of the fans brought up #JusticeForHan I was really curious and when they told me what happened, I was baffled. Like why would anybody do that and also the treatment to Han, that made no sense.”
Yes, Lin famously “killed” Han off in Tokyo Drift, only to reveal later that the events of Fast and Furious 4 to 6, while filmed after the third entry, takes place chronologically before Tokyo Drift. And it didn’t help that from the seventh installment, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the man who killed Han, returned to the series as a sort of anti-hero, and both the seventh and eighth entry did not reference Han’s demise, which led to fan outcry with #JusticeforHan.
“I definitely had very similar reactions with the fans and so when I came back, I felt like Justice for Han was needed. Me coming [back] felt like it was meant to be. I give the fans so much credit. For them to love a character so much that when there was something wrong, they voiced it to a point where we could have a real discussion so having him come back for all that to happen, meant alot,” continued Lin.
“It was very emotional for me. I think [Han coming back] was something that was very much earned.” If there’s one thing fans know about Fast and Furious is that the franchise is all about family and new beginnings. Fans who have been around since the first movie remember the OG crew made up of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), before adding the likes of Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) and Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang).
While fans love Dom for wearing his heart on his sleeve, fans adore the food-munching Han for the exact opposite. Whilst Dom easily commands any room he waltzes into, Han quietly sits back and evaluates the situation. Han is cool, calm and collected. He is down to Earth but is gangsta when he needs to be. His relationship with Giselle is arguably the best relationship to exist in the Fast universe so when Giselle died, fans mourned with Han. And when Han died, fans mourned for him. Hard.
When it was revealed in the F9 trailers that Han would be making a return, fans immediately took to the internet to share the excitement, and no one was more touched than Kang. For the actor, returning to the franchise is an opportunity to work with his friend Lin – something he never thought he’d be able to do again.
“It’s a special opportunity to be able to continue to work with your friend, in this business it’s rare. Justin and I, we spend most of our careers together. It’s funny how we started with Han, and we’re now back with Han but we’re older,” said Kang in the same interview with Geek Culture.
Interestingly enough, Lin didn’t know beforehand that Kang would also be joining him for this group interview, until the actor spoke up when we asked about his thoughts about returning to the series. After that, both friends immediately started chatting and joking about each other’s hair, and shifted the focus of the interview on how they’ve known each other for a long time, and embraced any opportunity to work together.
“It was an honor to be invited back from the fans. It was an honor to be able to work with your friend that cares about this character so much. It means so much as an artist to have someone care about a character and understand you deeply enough to know where your strengths are and your weaknesses are and to be able to affect people through a character and to do it with a friend that you started your career with, you know that journey together is really the Hollywood dream come true.”
And it’s especially more important when Han’s return isn’t just important to fans, Lin or Kang, but also to the wider Asian American community. When Han’s character was introduced, he was the only Asian representation fellow Asian Americans and Asians worldwide had in the Fast franchise, and possibly Hollywood in a massive franchise. In fact, during the release of the first Fast movie, there weren’t many Asian characters on screen that weren’t stereotypical, so fans and Asians alike were quick to embrace Han in the third entry.
After Han’s death, there have been no other Asian characters introduced to the franchise, and many fans took umbrage at the erasure of yet another beloved Asian character. Director Lin feels that more Asian characters are necessary in any story for that matter, including Fast, not to fit a diversity quota, but mostly to make stories better and present opportunities to talent that otherwise would go unseen.
“I got to give Universal a lot of credit because once I had that conversation with them, they were open to really changing the process. It wasn’t even about racism or anything, it’s just the way things were done and they just didn’t think about changing it. I still think it’s an ongoing thing and there’s still a lot of bias, crap and politics in what we do,” addressed Lin during the chat.
“I still think we got ways to go but I think in the last 20 years in my career, I feel like I’ve been having good luck just getting in there. Sometimes you gotta fight the fight. I think that when there’s opportunity to see not only Sung but other Asian talent, it just makes cinema and TV more interesting. I have a lot of hope for the future, but I feel like we’re still kind of in the very early stages of it. If you think about it, Hollywood existed 100 years before I got my chance and so I feel like there’s still a lot of growth to be had and the more people that have opportunities, they’re going to have the opportunity to have those dialogues and that’s what I’m excited about.”
As an Asian actor himself, Kang largely agrees with Lin’s sentiments. Whilst he acknowledges that Asian characters can be far much better than what they are now, Asian talent now have more accessibility to job opportunities as compared to when Kang was just starting out.
“When we were making Better Luck Tomorrow and Tokyo Drift, most of the Asian American actors I knew were unemployed. There would be like one or two of them working and everyone else is fighting for scraps. Now, the majority are working. Maybe it’s not [three-dimensional] characters that they’re looking for, but there’s more opportunities today because there are more people behind the camera that are making decisions,” added Kang.
Sung also recognises that the proliferation and access to social media has allowed people from all over the globe to push for representation, just as how fans have lobbied #JusticeForHan on Twitter.
“I think social media and the Internet has brought people together and now people are demanding to see their face on screen so it’s baby steps. Through art and films like Fast and Furious it shows that it does work by putting people of all different shapes and colours in the film, so I feel optimistic. And I realise that I’m not alone! We got directors, we got actors, we got writers, producers in the game… we’re all trying to achieve the same thing.”
Directed by Justin Lin, Fast and Furious 9 premieres 24 June 2021 in cinemas and sees the return of Han Seoul-Oh played by Sung Kang.