Back in the day when new movies were still released on DVD and VHS, my dad bought me my first DVD player and exactly two movies to play on it: A Knight’s Tale and The Fast and the Furious. I watched these movies over and over again until I had them memorized, but, of course, only one of them became a franchise that grew up alongside me during my formative young adult years. This came in handy when, in 2006, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was released and I was able to show off my infinite knowledge of the films and street cars in general to woo my boyfriend, a car guy in his own right, into proposing practically on the spot (Disclaimer: this might not be exactly how it happened, especially the part where I know anything about cars). What I loved most about this spinoff movie was that A) it took place in Tokyo, where I would later spend a college summer, B) it ended up being the film that defined the franchise, and C) it introduced me to my favorite character of the series after the indomitable Dominic Toretto: Han.
Minor spoilers for the F&F series from here on out.
Tokyo Drift had the same basic plot of an outsider white guy getting in too deep in the dangerous world of street racing that the first film had. While Lucas Black (Sean) was a perfectly fine cast for this role, his character just felt too reminiscent of Paul Walker’s Brian, and was therefore not the most interesting part of the film. His quiet benefactor, Han (Sung Kang), however, was was immediately intriguing. I mean, what kind of guy just hands over an expensive drift car to some buster? Han’s incredibly easygoing demeanor and patience with Sean made him a unique from the rest of the protagonists thus far in the series, and I was bummed to see him killed off so quickly. But then, as if by the hand of God, the series jumped years back in time to bring Han to California to team up with Dom in Fast and Furious.
Director Justin Lin picked up with Tokyo Drift and continued with the next three blockbuster films, becoming heavily responsible for worldwide success of the franchise. In an interview with Variety, Lin explains that it was his decision to up the relevance of the third film by bringing in Vin Diesel at the end, which is the exact point at which it became an official part of Fast and Furious canon. The tether to Lin’s quadrilogy within the franchise is the character Han, who first appeared outside of the series in Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow. Of course, once I learned that there was another movie out there featuring this beloved character, I had to watch it immediately.
Major spoilers of a movie that is twelve years old to follow:
Better Luck Tomorrow is absolutely nothing like the FF movies, and I anticipated as much going into my viewing. The story takes place in California and follows a group of overachieving Asian American high school students who make money pulling scams that become increasingly more dangerous. Han is a meaner, much more obnoxious version of himself, because, hey, he’s in high school. He helps his annoying cousin, Virgil, pull jobs with Virgil’s best friend and the film’s protagonist, Ben, until the three of them are recruited by golden boy and all-around dick, Daric. Daric has the group selling test answers to other students, which eventually progresses into drug dealing and grand theft, and finally ends with murder. The movie is hilarious and devastating, and I recommend it even for your slow and calm viewings.
What surprised me most was how much this film retroactively informs Han’s character. Even as an immature high schooler, he’s still got more or less the same personality. He’s still not much of a talker and is often introduced into a shot casually leaning against a car or sitting so low in a chair that his knees are higher than his head. He constantly beats up his younger cousin, mostly for fun, but is highly protective of him at the same time. He keeps his hands in his pockets when a guy he doesn’t like offers a handshake, but will be the first to ask for a beer when the same guy offers a drink. Remember in Fast Five when Gisele guessed that Han was a smoker, based on his endearing habit of constantly eating chips? Han chain smokes in nearly every scene in this movie; it’s not as cute as potato chips, but it’s still very Han.
Han’s role in the group, his first team, as it were, is to be the guy that gets things or gets rid of things. He also seems to be the only one with a car (vintage American muscle, of course). When they’re hired by an acquaintance to pull an especially shady job that ends in a man’s death, Han only agrees to participate to watch out for the group, and he’s also the only one that doesn’t have a direct hand in the murder. Virgil, on the other hand, can’t handle the guilt from killing someone and attempts suicide as his cousin walks into his house. Han’s last shot of the movie is his face in his hands as he sits next to Virgil’s bed in a hospital after kicking out asshole Daric (I really do not like Daric).
I’d like to imagine that it’s not too long after this that Han meets Dom Toretto. After all, the films take place geographically close to each other, and it would make sense chronologically. After the tragedy he suffered in high school, Han would probably be seeking a new team to pull jobs with high pay and little to no collateral damage (these are noble criminals, after all). Family is as important to Han as it is to Dom, and this theme carries over all the way to the final chronological movie when he takes young Sean under his wing. Alas, Tokyo finally caught up to Han in the sixth film, which was coincidentally Justin Lin’s last film for the series. Perhaps Lin will bring Sung Kang’s Han with him to his slated Bourne sequel, or maybe Han isn’t really dead in the FF franchise. The important thing is that Han will live forever in our hearts.
: Editor’s note: technically, it’s never been officially acknowledged that the Han in Better Luck Tomorrow (who’s never given a surname) is the same character we meet in Tokyo Drift, but come on. It’s the same dude. -Dylan