Han – the character
Like so many others, I first ‘met’ Han in Tokyo Drift. His character was cool, had a sense of honour and you felt he had seen a lot in his time, reaching out to mentor Sean and ultimately sacrifice himself for him. I then lost touch with the franchise, looking East for my film kicks and it wasn’t until I bought the box set of 1-5 that I reconnected, but it was after ‘Fast and Furious 6’ that I began to look at what Justin Lin had managed to achieve as Director along with writer Chris Morgan who also joined the franchise on Tokyo Drift.
Han actually begins his existence in Justin Lin’s ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ (BLT) as a wanna be gangster. Placing him into the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise was an intelligent decision by Lin. The repetition of characters between indie and tent-pole movies is unusual in film, particularly with franchises not based on other media. Batman, Spiderman, Superman et al. exist in other media such as graphic art, animation, TV series where audiences are already invested in the mythos that surrounds them. New interpretations can be debated and argued over, directors and studios have the ability to ‘reboot’ the stories, retell them, recast them and have the reflect current issues and social norms.
Creating characters who are flawed and can be loveable, desirable or despised is not easy, neither is being able to leave an audience wanting to know more about their journey in life and what happens to them after the credits roll. In BLT, we see the beginning of Han’s journey, we see what he has been involved in, who he has seen die in front of him. We see his complicated relationship with his cousin Virgil and the simplistic sexual one with women. Then we meet him in ‘Tokyo Drift’, casually cool, doing deals with yakuza and still unattached to any one woman as though he has drifted through life to get to this point. He has money, Tokyo is his Mexico, he sees himself as a cowboy run for the borders, not quite the rebel gangster of BLT. It might seem that he has not matured if it wasn’t for the world weary way in which he talks to Sean.
His introduction, and demise, in Tokyo Drift had sadness to it, but its in the following three films that more of his story is told. The tag with Toretto at the end of ‘Tokyo Drift’ shows there is more story to tell. That Han rolled with him back in the day should really be no surprise and it gives Lin and the writers something to build on in the next three movies. Lin says he likes sequels, but not the way they often just recycle old material and along with writer Chris Morgan managed to tie in the first three films with the fourth one. Han’s appearance creates a point on the timeline of the franchise, the inclusion of Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) in 5 and 6 ensures the combination of characters stays fresh and relevant and with Han’s further appearances and the mention of Tokyo in each one reminds us that ‘All roads lead to this’ when it comes to his fate. It is in ‘Fast and Furious 6’ we see him lose someone he actually loves, someone who sacrifices herself for him and his death, repeated once more at the end of ‘Fast and Furious 6’, becomes truly painful.
By telling of Han’s demise before his back story within the franchise, the mention of Tokyo each time he leaves the screen, reminds the audience of that fixed point, reminds them that the time they have with him is precious. A lot of fans want Han to live. I’ve seen countless posts and arguments of how he could have been pulled from the car, he could have just hidden knowing he might have to be on the run, but for me, just one look at the fireball, how badly Han was injured tells the truth that he died. I hate that he died, it upsets me no end and that’s what makes Lin a genius director – he made canon and he keeps it. As he said in an interview in 2003 about BLT – “You have to develop your identity, whatever you’re trying to grow into. If you adopt an identity and don’t have the patience to grow into it, the identity can overtake you.” ~ Justin Lin [*]. By the end of Fast and Furious 6, Han’s identity is complete, Lin has allowed his character to grow through films 4 to 6 to reach who he is in ‘Tokyo Drift’ without it overwhelming him.
Han – the spirit
Its not so much Han’s life that makes him iconic. Its his death, as its through Han’s death that we become part of the Toretto family, we will mourn him like they do… and we will want him avenged. Its this sense of loss that makes me think of the Korean concept of Han, that Justin Lin and Sung Kang have, intentionally or not, given us.
‘Han’ is a single word that contains a cultural trait of Koreans that appears in their literature and arts. Its unique and has no English equivalent. “Han, which comprises both sadness and hope, is a feeling unique to the Korean people”[*]says writer Park Kyong-ni who also defines it as:
“…sorrow, or resignation, or a sigh….the complex feeling which embraces both sadness and hope. The sadness stems from the effort by which we accept the original contradiction facing all living things, and hope comes from the will to overcome the contradiction.”[*]
It might be a little abstract to apply this to the journey a character makes through a tent-pole franchise, but Lin has engineered the ‘Fast and Furious’ films to be something more than the summer blockbuster. The themes of family, sacrifice and love have become stronger, the relationships become more realistic. Its through this that we get to experience that feeling of ‘han’ in films 3-6, with our attachment to Han and his sacrifice, we live in hope he survives, but are resigned to the inevitable sadness we feel. Seeing him in films 4-6 is bittersweet, we know his fate and not the others, we have heartache, even though he is still living and breathing on screen.
Han – the future
“It’s time to close the book.” ~ Sung Kang[*]
“I think it [would be] disrespecting the legacy, too. It’s disrespecting the fans.” ~ Sung Kang[*]
I was really glad to read those words from the actor himself in some of the interviews he’s done recently. Thinking of Han’s death and watching Tokyo Drift is upsetting, but even more so would be the idea that he would be brought back. It might sound contradictory, to say that, but Sung Kang is right that it would be disrespectful. Fans of the franchise really have faith in the films, particularly the story arcs created by Justin Lin and Chris Morgan. There is a bond between the audience and the director forged via the combination of characters and story, not just the cars and heists and explosions. Break canon by bringing back Han and you break that bond. You cheapen what has happened before and turn it into a second rate money spinner. You’ll still enjoy watching it, but will always remember the bitter taint of that betrayal.
In film seven, James Wan the new director at the helm, I can imagine there would be pressure to bring Han back – a popular character that more people relate to than maybe was thought possible seven years ago. I really hope nobody buckles under that pressure. The most I would expect or find acceptable to see would be the last ride, snatches of Tokyo Drift footage interspersed with an idea of how his death was designed by the bad guy.
I don’t want Han to be resurrected for the sake of studio money. I want the studios to have faith in James Wan taking the torch from Lin and forging a new arc and I want to see what the Toretto family’s vengeance will look like.