Fast & Furious 9 director Justin Lin breaks down Han's return, John Cena twist
I can’t be the only one still reeling from the epic first trailer for Fast & Furious 9 (in theaters May 22). Unveiled via a concert event in Miami, the footage features a new WTF moment every quarter-mile. To recap: Cena is playing a badass named Jakob… Toretto. Yes, that means he’s Vin Diesel’s onscreen brother. And speaking of family, fan favorite Han (Sung Kang) is alive. After seemingly being killed off all the way back in 2006’s The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift (a nonlinear timeline allowed him to hang around until 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, when he seemed to be gone for good), Han returns, with the trailer explicitly declaring that “justice for Han” is finally coming.
We all need some answers, so EW hopped on the phone with director Justin Lin, who previously helmed Fast 3 through 6, just minutes after the trailer launch.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So many surprises! How excited were you to finally put them out into the world?
JUSTIN LIN: It feels good. I was just there with the crowd, really feeling how they were reacting in real time. When I left after Fast 6, I really thought that was it, like, there’s no more Fast stories I can tell. From then on, I would travel and just meet people and fans of the franchise, and they would tell me why they love the franchise so much and just share their stories. Then two years ago, I woke up with an idea for the new chapter. And a big part of that is exploring this theme of family that is always tied to Fast, but doing it through blood. I think anybody who has siblings around the world knows that if you have fights with blood, it’s 100 times more intense, all gloves are off, and I was really excited about that. And along the way, I hadn’t seen the other two movies, and I was at a Q&A for [Lin and Kang’s first film together] Better Luck Tomorrow and someone brought up “justice for Han,” and so all these things were kind of working together.
It’s been a two-year journey, so to be out there with the fans, I feel like I’ve come full circle, because even though I didn’t expect to come back, they’re a big reason why I am. It was so great to know on a chapter 9 that we still have a lot more to go. We’re not going to be reusing and doing things that we’ve done before. The great news is that even with the trailer, there’s still a lot that’s not being shared, so that’s something I’m very proud of.
What can you tell us about Han and the decision to bring him back? It’s fitting that your return would mark Sung’s return, given your history together.
Obviously, I have a very personal connection to the character. To be honest, when we first started, the community of Fast was not the community that it is today. I feel like, together, every kind of connection with the audience, we had to earn. With these sequels, sometimes people take it for granted and think it’s just going to happen; I always think we have to earn the next one. And so to be able to go through that journey with Han… when I left, I felt it was appropriate and I felt like we were putting the character to bed, but it’s because of some of the things that happened that didn’t quite make sense to me, and so I felt like if I was going to come back, I really wanted to explore why. I think it’s really up to us to bring him back and explore it throughout the themes that we’re all used to.
Without spoiling anything, what can you say about how he factors into the new film?
In this world, I feel like things happen for a reason. I won’t go into details or anything, but I do think that bringing him back is nothing I take lightly — and it took a lot — but I think what I appreciate is that this universe has really grown and it allows us to evolve and really kind of redefine ourselves as we go.
One of the most emotional moments is the opening of the trailer featuring a version of “See You Again,” which was used in Furious 7 to help send off the late Paul Walker. Why did it feel right to insert it here?
It was important because as the Fast family we take a lot of pride in the journey. In front of the camera you’re seeing our characters age, and behind the camera we’re all growing together, we started families, all of our kids are growing up together. And so I really thought it was important to acknowledge that with Dom, Letty, and little Brian. And to be able to acknowledge that in a big action franchise, I thought it was important to connect that to other pieces of the family.
Speaking of other pieces of the family: We didn’t know anything about John’s character going in, but now we learn that he’s Dom’s brother, Jakob, which somehow is only the third-craziest thing in the trailer. What can you say about introducing Jakob and what you liked about that idea?
Again, a lot of the theme of family kind of reflects my immigrant story. I feel like my 10-year-old son growing up, he’s got Uncle Vin, Uncle Sung, and it’s not by blood. I feel like our family is truly this earned relationship. But at the same time, it’s one thing we have not explored through bloodline. And Michael Rooker, who is in this movie, said it best when he came and we were talking about the film, he said some of the bloodiest fights he’s seen in his life were either at funerals or weddings. And that’s something that really excited me when the idea came to me, that we could really start this new chapter exploring family through the traditional bloodlines. But then the next emotional beat for me was that I was kind of scared s—less of like, “Well, who is going to be a Toretto?!” And I was so relieved when I sat down with John, and within a minute of talking to him you could feel the strength and discipline, but also the fact that he could be vulnerable. He was just a pleasure to work with, and I really do think he’s going to bring a lot as the antagonist to Dom.
Every Fast trailer builds up to a big action sequence, and here it’s the magnet plane and vehicles jumping islands, which has a very Indiana Jones-with-cars vibe.
The one thing that I take a lot of pride in is really scaring the crap out of my crew. [Laughs] When we have these production meetings and I’m sitting there in front of people and describing what we are about to do, I love that kind of nervous silence before we all focus and figure out how we’re going to do it. Personally, I feel that good action sequences are nothing if you don’t have a connection with these characters, and one of the big things I wanted to do coming back was elevate and really push growth in every character. And so when we went to Phuket and found the location, I felt like that was really appropriate for that sequence, to catch the audiences up with the state of each character. And, of course, I like to push our characters into really impossible situations and have how they get out of it define who they are at that moment.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.