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Why That ‘Fast & Furious 9’ Reveal Weakens the Franchise

Han is alive. Take a moment, Fast & Furious fans, to let that sink in.

Sung Kang’s character returned to the franchise in the final moments of the Fast & Furious 9 (or F9, if you prefer) trailer, which arrived Friday via a massive Miami-set concert showcase that reunited fans with longtime stars Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel.

F9, which also marks the return of popular series helmer Justin Lin, pits Diesel’s Dom Toretto against John Cena’s Jakob, a villain who is revealed to be (surprise!) Dom’s brother. The familial connection proves that Fastisn’t straying from its soap opera-like formula, but the resurrection of Kang’s Han Lue was the out-of-nowhere twist that left the largest impression, considering the character was last seen in the driver’s seat of an exploding Mazda RX-7.

The winding, continuity-challenged framework of this franchise — charming to fans and headache-inducing to others – is difficult to follow, but for the uninitiated, here is where things stand.

Han was introduced and killed off in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a film that, outside of a Vin Diesel cameo, was thought to have no connection to the original. However, Han returned for 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. It’s later revealed that Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6, with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw taking credit for Han’s murder. The same death sequence is also replayed at the beginning of 2015’s Furious 7, sending Dom into a fury and serving as the impetus for the film’s revenge plot. 

Now, three sequels and one spinoff later, Han returns in F9, still munching on potato chips — a character trait that lets the audience know it’s really him.

Following the trailer’s release, “Han Is Alive” and “Justice for Han” became top trending topics on Twitter, with fans rejoicing at the return of the franchise favorite. While Han’s return should be a celebratory moment, it raises an important question: What happens when there are no stakes left in this series?

Fast has pulled the back-from-the-dead stunt once before, with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz returning in Fast & Furious 6 after her character was killed off in 2009’s Fast & Furious. Letty’s death, like Han’s, was a game-changer, but, as fans know, the franchise is all about family, and the creative forces behind the scenes just can’t seem to move on.

Even the villains of Fast & Furious live to antagonize our heroes another day, with Statham among those who have taken on anti-hero roles in subsequent films. Charlize Theron is back in F9 after her cyber-terrorist villain, Cypher, survived the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Knowing what we know, it would be truly shocking if John Cena’s heel turn lasted more than one film, as the WWE star will surely survive the events of F9.

It should be noted that the death that most impacted the franchise occurred offscreen, when Paul Walker was killed in a car wreck in 2013. His character, Brian O’Connor, was “retired” and given an emotional sendoff at the end of Furious 7

Nine films in (10 if you count spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Fast & Furious has taken great care to preserve its remaining core. But at what cost? How can characters evolve if every tragedy gets a do-over?

Star Wars fans just went through a similar experience in December, with Chewbacca’s “death” in The Rise of Skywalker. The iconic character was thought to have been killed when Daisy Ridley’s Rey zapped a First Order prisoner transport with Sith lightning. Just as the emotional weight of Chewie’s death was sinking it, Rey learned she zapped a different transport, and the Wookie was still alive. For a moment, fans thought Star Wars had actually gone there. The filmmakers had the rug pulled out from under the audience, only to have Chewbacca reappear, still alive and waiting to be rescued.

No tears. No loss. No risk. Luke Skywalker even drives it home, proclaiming, “No one is ever really gone.” 

Fast & Furious revels in its melodrama and “family is everything” attitude. But its unrelenting loyalty to the family comes at the expense of advancing the story and its characters. The franchise turns 20 years old in 2021. Its Day One fans have grown up, maybe it’s time Fast did too.

January 31, 2020 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment

Movie Review: Better Luck Tomorrow — Is This the Prequel to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift?

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Better_luck_tomorrow_poster001Four Asian high school honor students take on illegal extra-curricular activities in Justin Lin’s BETTER LUCK TOMORROW. What starts with cheat sheets quickly escalates to major criminal activities, while our main character Ben starts using cocaine to keep up his grades and gang status.

The high school drama feels honest, with Ben taken with lab partner Stephanie, unsure of his place in the high school hierarchy, and very focused on college and his future. In fact, for the first act of this film I thought that’s all the movie would be–an Asian-American coming of age drama like The Breakfast Club or Almost Famous. When the film takes its second act turn and becomes a crime film it was unexpected, but never felt disingenuous.

I kept trying to anticipate how the film would progress, and I never got it right. Lin’s picture (which he co-wrote) keeps taking unexpected turns, and I was along for the ride.

The cast is uniformly awesome. Shen, likely best known now for his three turns in the Hatchet series, carries the film. Told from his point of view, he’s in every scene. His daily routines reminded me of an Aaronofsky character, but showed his focus on his goals. When the character makes unexpected choices, it’s Shen who makes sense of it.

Jason Tobin plays Virgil. Seemingly the least intelligent and most impulsive member of the gang, Tobin brings a madness and pathos to the role that really added suspense. It really seems Virgil will be the group’s undoing.

Roger Fan’s Derec, the leader of the gang, is charismatic and scheming, but also seems like a good guy. The wrong balance with Derec could turn you against the gang, but Fan plays the balance and even at times seems vulnerable.

And Sung Kang plays Han–the reason I watched this film. Kang would go on to play Han in 3 of Lin’s FAST AND FURIOUS films, and Lin has said it’s the same Han seen in this film. Here Han is not given the focus much, but he is the coolest member of the gang with a pretty nice car. He’d fade into the background were it not for his future collaborations with Lin.

And in a supporting role is the film’s biggest star, John Cho. Primarily known as the “MILF Guy” from American Pie, of course Cho would go on to do the Harold and Kumar films before playing Sulu on Star Trek. Here, as a spoiled rich kid two-timing Stephanie, the object of Ben’s affections, Cho strikes the right notes with a tricky and pretentious character.

The film avoids any stereotypes–these are just high schoolers who happen to be Asian, but they’re all-American kids balancing a bright future with a life of crime and instant gratification.

When the film ended I found myself satisfied. It was a drama film that had elements of crime, not a crime film with elements of drama, but an entertaining and moving watch. RECOMMEND.

March 10, 2015 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Movie Review: Better Luck Tomorrow — Is This the Prequel to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift?

Ride out with Now Playing ‘Fast & Furious’ series

Now Playing Podcast has unveiled the cover art for its The Fast and the Furious retrospective, a 7-film series that begins Tuesday, Feb. 24 and runs through the release of Furious 7 in early April.

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The release schedule can be found on the Now Playing website. While there, fans can also choose an upcoming podcast by taking part in a listener poll. The winning film will be revealed during the March 3 review of 2 Fast 2 Furious.

February 23, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off on Ride out with Now Playing ‘Fast & Furious’ series