Justice is coming to “Fast and Furious 9” in a big way: with the return of Sung Kang as beloved Toretto family member Han.
Han’s homecoming was teased in a new trailer for Universal’s May 22 action sequel, directed by frequent series helmer Justin Lin, which sees Vin Diesel‘s Dominic Toretto trying to leave his quarter-mile-at-a-time life behind.
“It’s emotional — it feels like I’m going back to a family reunion,” said the actor ahead of his surprise appearance onstage at Friday’s pre-Super Bowl trailer premiere and concert event in Miami. “It’s a relationship that has been missing in my life since the last ‘Fast.’”
The trailer is expected to make its television debut on Sunday during the big game.
Han’s return to the franchise comes as a shock partly because the death of the character, who was introduced in the third film, has been depicted multiple times onscreen in the nine-film series — in 2006’s “Tokyo Drift,” again in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6″ and again at the beginning of 2015’s “Furious 7.”
Then again, no blockbuster series has played as fast and loose with the rules or with its own mythology as the $5-billion-plus grossing saga that began as the humble tale of macho street racers in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.”
Kang became a pivotal linchpin when he originated the role of Han in 2006 threequel “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.” His character proved so charismatic that director Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan bent time to bring him back for the next three films, making “Fast & Furious,” “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” prequels to “Tokyo Drift.”
That bold move made Han a bridge between Dominic Toretto’s crew of L.A. street racers and the international roster of spies, special operatives and professional thieves the films are now known for. But how the franchise treated its only Asian American main cast member after that led to fan outrage and the hashtag #JusticeForHan.
At the end of “Fast & Furious 6,” filmmakers tinkered with the series’ canon to reveal who had actually been responsible for Han’s death: British ex-operative Deckard Shaw. Played by Jason Statham, the new character was introduced causing the fiery crash that claimed Han’s life.
The seventh film began with the grieving Toretto crew out to avenge the murder of their close friend. By the next installment, however, fans were in for a shock: Refashioning Statham’s Shaw into a hero, “Fate of the Furious” saw Dom seemingly forgive the former villain, who even got an invite to the family barbecue.
The abrupt turn spawned the #JusticeForHan hashtag. Social media outcry increased when Statham, now a full-fledged good guy, got his own spinoff movie last year opposite Dwayne Johnson, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”
For Kang, watching the “Justice for Han” movement rally around the character that launched his career was initially hard to process. It became a touching source of inspiration as he watched fans voice their support for the character he originated.
“At first it was easy to dismiss it,” he said. “I wondered, does the audience really have a voice?”
On the outside of creative decisions that were being made as the franchise continued to evolve without him, Kang himself wondered if the retconned Shaw storyline left Han’s legacy out in the cold. “When Shaw came in and was revealed to be the killer and got invited into the family fold … that’s where you went, ‘Well, is this character being respected?’”
Han’s return to the franchise coincides with the return of director Lin, who indicated where his heart lies when he was spotted on the “Fast 9″ set wearing a “Justice for Han” T-shirt.
Returning cast include Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron, who are joined by new franchise antagonist John Cena as Dom’s brother. The upcoming film is written by Daniel Casey.
Kang and Lin’s relationship with Han predates the “Fast” universe, going all the way back to Lin’s 2002 indie drama “Better Luck Tomorrow.” (The collaborators have playfully said they consider Kang’s “Better Luck Tomorrow” character, also named Han, to be the same person as his “Fast” character.)
“We know who and what Han is,” said Kang about how he and Lin approached Han in “Fast 9.” “And we’re older now. This Han is older. The things that we’ve learned as men in our personal lives, I hope it can transcend on-screen.”
The “Fast and Furious 9” tease suggests that filmmakers have found a way to course correct — or at least offer a new way for fans to reckon with Shaw’s actions.
Kang declined to go into spoilers — for instance, exactly how Han is back, or the circumstances of his return to the screen. For now all he’ll say is that everything ties back into the franchise’s theme of “family.” “I hope we do it justice.”