In one of the boldest, most unprecedented and underappreciated moves in recent filmmaking history, writer-director Justin Lin brought one of his favorite characters, Sung Kang’s Han Lue, with him from his indie 2002 directorial debut Better Luck Tomorrow to the 2006 franchise threequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Still, as the Fast saga’s biggest cult favorite turns 15 today, Kang admits expectations were not incredibly high for the sequel to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious and 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious that couldn’t lure stars like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster (save for an uncredited cameo from Diesel’s Dominic Toretto).
“We were the underdog film,” Kang told Yahoo Entertainment in a recent interview promoting the return of his fan favorite character, the fast-driving but soft-spoken Han, in Friday’s nationwide release of F9 (watch above). “From what I recall, we were destined for DVD. I didn’t think there was any life after Tokyo Drift. I was just grateful to be there and have a job and be part of this universal world.”
Released June 16, 2006, Tokyo Drift follows an American teen (Lucas Black) who is sent to live in Japan with his father and falls into the local drifting culture. It was a light-to-modest hit for Universal, earning $159 million worldwide on a budget of $85 million, and scored paltry reviews from critics. But the film grew in stature with fans over the years as the series became an unstoppable box office behemoth with later installments, and the hashtag #JusticeforHan — a fan movement urging the franchise’s filmmakers to do better by the popular character killed off in Tokyo Drift — became more and more popular.
Han (and Kang) did return in 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, but all were considered prequels to Tokyo Drift in the series’ sometimes mind-numbing timeline, while Han’s killer — Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw – was redeemed and made the hero of his own saga spinoff (2019’s Hobbs & Shaw with Dwayne Johnson).
Thanks to that movement, however, Han lives in F9’s present day. That means Kang gets his meatiest Fast role in 15 years and returns with most famous quirk: the fact that he's seen snacking on chips at nearly every turn. Kang explained exactly why Han always seems to have the munchies during our interview.
“Han was a chain smoker” in Better Luck Tomorrow, Kang says. “He was a little riff-raff in high school, and he’s always smoking, trying to look cool and stuff. And when Han was going to be brought into the Fast and Furious world, I knew that a bunch of kids were going to watch this film. Better Luck Tomorrow was an indie, very edgy, rated R film, it was an arthouse film, and so I knew what our audience was going to be. But with Fast, there’s a lot of kids watching this.
“So I started watching actors like Brad Pitt and Steve McQueen and listening to the behind the scenes [interviews], and what does an actor do when he doesn’t speak much? If you go back to Tokyo Drift, Han probably says like three words in the whole film. He’s always observing. And I needed an activity, I needed something to do instead of just having my hands in my pockets. And what do you do when you’re watching something? You’re eating, you’re snacking. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the perfect activity.’ You can stay active. You can act with a snack.”
F9 opens Friday.
Watch the trailer:
-Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
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