A funny thing about acting is that sometimes the person who seems to be doing the least is actually the one you remember the most. Think of, say, Brad Pitt in the Ocean’s franchise, during which my man Rusty Ryan is constantly leaning, snacking, and snarking at George Clooney’s Danny Ocean. Is he emoting or agonizing? A little bit in Ocean’s Twelve when he reunites with lost love Catherine Zeta-Jones, but otherwise? No. He is just very, very cool. Or, of course, there’s the patron saint of white man coolness, Paul Newman, who Twitter rediscovers every few months as being yes, that handsome, and yes, that chill. Watch Newman in Cool Hand Luke and he is, quite simply, the most magnetic figure onscreen at any time. You can’t stop looking at him. He is beautiful, obviously. But there’s a deeper quality to Newman that keeps you turning back to him again, and again, and again—a combination of self-knowledge and self-assurance that lets you know that this man knows who he is.
Other actors who have this: Keanu Reeves, Zoë Kravitz, Jason Momoa, Jonathan Majors, Riz Ahmed, Angelina Jolie. Speaking for myself here, as someone who walks through life plagued by self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-deprecation, I don’t mean to say that actors are inherently better at knowing themselves than the rest of us. But what I am saying is that in the movies, to quote Vin Diesel, the actors who are effortless at exuding limitless charisma, who slide right into whatever scene without a big fuss, and who stand steady in smaller, quieter moments, have a different kind of seductive appeal. They’re alluring in their competency and attractive in their certainty. That’s what Sung Kang brought to the Fast and Furious franchise as Han Lue, and his return in F9 is exactly what the franchise needs.
People say “soap opera” like it’s a bad thing, when the Fast & Furious franchise has increasingly lifted the spontaneity of that genre and used it to its advantage. Dom’s (Diesel) emphasis on family loyalty reminds me of Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) hyping up his sprawling clan of children and grandchildren on The Young and the Restless! All these characters brought back from the dead are flashing me back to Passions! Come on, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has amnesia? There are secret babies? People survive all kinds of car crashes, fight scenes, and other unbelievably destructive and violent acts? Suspend your disbelief while watching these movies, baby, all of it, and you’ll be better off.
The only thing more vexing than the increased militarization of the evolving Fast & Furious franchise is the disrespect toward Han, not only by the end of Furious 8, but also by giving his killer a spinoff with the frankly terrible Hobbs & Shaw. How are you going to let Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into the family after Fast & Furious 6 revealed that it was Deckard in the silver car that broadsided and killed Han in Tokyo Drift? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DO THAT, DOM? This franchise has increasingly been about melodramatic, hyperreal emotional grandeur, but that moment from screenwriter Chris Morgan and director F. Gary Gray in F8 felt summarily false.
Han “Seoul-Oh” deserved better. The Han who was introduced as Dom’s friend and fellow heist mate in the Diesel-directed short film Los Bandoleros . The Han who taught
Jacob Lucas Black’s Sean how to drift and evoked Don Draper in his tragic cowboy speech about how “Life’s simple. You make choices and you don’t look back”:
And the Hen who fell in love with Gal Gadot’s Gisele and sold the self-aware line re: Tokyo, “We’ll get there, eventually,” was the refreshingly bad fighter in Fast & Furious 6, and finally decides to head to Tokyo in isolation as a way to deal with his grief over Gisele’s death.
Director Justin Lin cast Kang, whom he had previously worked with on his indie breakout Better Luck Tomorrow, in Tokyo Drift. (Kang’s Fast & Furious version of Han, Lin has explained, is a spiritual successor to his same-named Better Luck Tomorrow character.) And once Lin had creative control of the franchise, he purposefully tweaked the series’ timeline to incorporate more of Han into 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, which all serve as prequels to Tokyo Drift. Wherever we are in this franchise’s incredibly tangled timeline, Han has always felt the most human. He’s loose and unfrazzled in the way Paul Walker’s Brian was, but his backstory isn’t as straightforward as “troubled kid turned cop.” He still retains some mystery when he tells Sean that Tokyo is his Mexico, the border he crossed to lose his pursuers. Han is obviously a great driver, but he hasn’t transformed into a super-aggro commando figure, like Dom, Hobbs, or Shaw. He’s funny, but he’s not a clown, like Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, and he’s dry, but not exactly a troll, a la Ludacris’s Tej. His smirking “Nice clubhouse” line delivery in the “Han is Back” F9 trailer is the most memorable line in a solid four minutes about … magnets?
Of every character in this franchise, Han might be the one an average viewer can see themselves in the most. He’s loved, and lost. He’s been a mentor, and a partner, and a friend. “We ain’t in the Boy Scouts,” he smirks to Drift King Takashi (Brian Tee), the Tokyo Drift villain, but he’s also never been malevolent or hurtful to others. Han wants to live his life on his own terms, with his friends and the people he loves by his side, and unlike “all those people down there” who “follow the rules,” he won’t let “fear lead.” Han is always inside the action of this franchise but also exists slightly outside of it, occupying a within/without space that is similar to ours as the audience. So when Han died, and when the man who killed him was invited into Dom’s family, it felt like a betrayal not only of the entire emotional backbone of this franchise, but of us.
Kudos to LA Times film journalist and critic Jen Yamato for starting the #JusticeforHan campaign that eventually made its way to Lin and Kang, and kudos to both men for coming back to the franchise to right a wrong. Fifteen years after Tokyo Drift implicitly apologized for the racist undertones of The Fast and the Furious by making Han the guy every one of us wanted to be around, and four years after The Fate of the Furious made the mistake of thinking the franchise’s coolest character could also be its most disposable, F9 is here to right the course and live up to Han’s own words about “trust and character.” I cannot wait to see what chips Han Lue, himself a snack, is snacking on now.
F9 is now in theaters.
Header Image Source: Epk.tv