Culture Sung Kang's Road Home: How His Fast & Furious Character Became a Lightning Rod
Kang's fan favorite is back from the dead in the new F9, and even the actor himself is realizing how meaningful the campaign to restore him really was.
I’ve watched Sung Kang get into the same car accident many times. It always goes like this: He’s speeding in a metallic orange Mazda RX-7, racing through the streets of Tokyo, when something goes wrong. The car gets hit. The car gets flipped. The car explodes. Sung Kang dies. Over and over and over and over again.
It’s a scene that’s taken on a talismanic importance in the Fast & Furious movies and become a cornerstone of the increasingly internecine plotting. The crash first appeared in Tokyo Drift, and across the nine mainline films, it has been shown four times now; Fast & Furious has left an unbelievable amount of wrecked vehicles in its wake, but this is the only crash that gets repeated. They’ve never reshot the scene, instead polishing up footage from unused angles and putting it back on screen. It’s a death that matters, and the architects of these movies are constantly tweaking what, exactly, it means. Kang, who plays the fans’ beloved Han, laughs every time he watches it.
“I look so ridiculous in that scene,” Kang says. “I was upside down, and I was, like, holding my breath. I tried to make my face red.” Watch it again, and you’ll notice Han is looking a little rosy right before he passes. “It’s the stuff I used to do in front of mirrors as a kid” — pretending to die — “Do you close your eyes, or keep your eyes open?”
To explain why the Fast & Furious movies keep showing this one death again and again is to explain the overarching strangeness of this particular franchise. It’s a bizarre anomaly in the blockbuster landscape, a $6 billion series that’s written with no real plan from movie to movie, but with enough heart to imprint deeply on its fans (myself included). These are movies that are willing to change plots, soap opera style, based on whatever is needed next. It’s one of the most purely American stories ever told. And at its heart is Sung Kang’s Han.