What Actor Sung Kang Learned from a Neighbor Restoring a ‘64 Chevy Impala

·12 min read
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Sung Kang on Cars, ‘Fast X,’ Meaning of La FamiliaFrazer Harrison - Getty Images

Before Sung Kang became the character Han Lue in the wildly successful Fast and Furious movie franchise, his parents wanted him to go to law school. As an incentive to switch from studying drama at UC Riverside, they bought him an RX-7. It was a cool car, but not cool enough. He stayed with acting, and director Justin Lin cast him as Han Lue in an Asian gangster movie you may never have seen called Better Luck Tomorrow. It had nothing to do with the F&F series, but director Lin liked the Han Lue character Kang had created so much that he incorporated Han Lue in Fast & Furious Tokyo Drift.

Kang’s parents still wanted him to study law.

“Asian parents never admit they’re wrong,” Kang told castmate and friend Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in a faux YouTube interview. “But they cashed the check.”

Fast X, the 10th installment in what has become one of the biggest franchises in movie history, opens May 19. We got to talk to Sung Kang before it came out.

Autoweek: What can you tell us about Fast X? What’s coming up? Fights? Crashes? Bad guys? Girls screaming? Guys screaming? What happens?

Sung Kang: It’s so easy to talk about this film with excitement because it’s been a long time, I wondered, ‘Is it the end of the road for us? Is it like, time to throw in the towel? We’re getting a little older and all that.’ But it’s refreshing on multiple levels. The fans of the franchise that grew up with us are gonna get familiar characters, more in-depth, emotional journeys to the characters, characters that you’re familiar with, that you grew up with. And then the new characters add this nitrous, this excitement, this, like, hot sauce to it, that is organic to our world. They don’t feel out of place. It’s still Hollywood fantastical, but it’s exciting. And it’s true to the Fast and Furious world.

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A Jeep blows sky high and looks like it may crush Tyrese’s gold Gallardo! Oh no!NBC Universal

AW: What cars will we see?

SK: For the car communities—the purists, the people that are into cars, that know cars, that modify cars, that have a car in the garage and that’s why they watch this film—it has something for them. It has this respect for the car community, this acknowledgement that, ‘Yeah, we made a few mistakes in the past, like, there is no MoTeC exhaust (MoTeC made ECUs when Paul Walker said that line the first Fast). There are enough guardians at the gate that love cars themselves, that we’re going, ‘Hey, there’s a community that’s been with us on this ride for all these years. Let’s make sure we respect them.’

AW: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the stunts that are coming up?

SK: You’re going to see grounded action that is still fantastical. We’re not in space, we don’t go back in time or anything. Everything’s on Earth. This action is grounded. And then there’s racing scenes that people are familiar with that have homages to the past. It gives the car guys what they want. It’s authentic. They use the car as a metaphor. The car guys are gonna love this.

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A flaming beach ball bomb threatens the Vatican and only Dom can save us!NBC / NBC Universal

AW: What car do you drive, is there a hero car assigned to you?

SK: That car is a ‘72 Alfa Romeo GTV. That sequence takes place in Rome, so it was fitted with a car from Italy. That has Italian legacy but it’s organic to Han’s character, so, to me, that car is like an Italian Nissan Hakosuka GTR, an early Skyline. It has a twin-cam engine, so it’s kind of the same DNA, right? And that car, I actually purchased from the studio, I have it in my home garage. The stunt car was built by these gentlemen in the UK, the UK build team, and it has Alfaholics suspension, wheels and all these aftermarket parts. Alfaholics, for those folks that don’t know, are like the Singer of Alfa Romeos. They do these beautiful resto mods that look still classic and respect the original styling cues, but everything’s new. And this one has—check this out, Mark—it has a 2.3 Ford EcoBoost in there, Turbo EcoBoost, which I had in the Ford Maverick that I built years ago for SEMA. So I was blown away. I talked to the builders about this. I go, ‘Why do you have a Ford EcoBoost in an Alfa Romeo GTV?’ They’re like, ‘It’s a crate motor. It’s reliable. Like, you know, it can get enough horsepower, power ratio band is like perfect.’ You know, it’s about 330 (hp), something like that. For a 1900-pound car, it’s perfect to do the stunts. It’s safe enough. And it plops right in.

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Things go wrong in a street race...NBC Universal

AW: Do you get to do a lot of driving in the movie? In the trailers we see you inside the car driving. How much actual driving are you doing?

SK: Well, that’s why they paid me the big bucks, Mark! No, it’s all acting. I can never take credit for the driving and the stunts. Those are done by world-class professional drifters and stunt performers. Those guys risked their lives to do that and make us look great. We go in for the close-up stuff, and they put us on a gimbal and do green-screen stuff. I would love to do that (stunt driving), but I’m not trained, and I’m not capable of hitting those marks like that. It takes decades of experience to be able to do that type of driving,

AW: Are there some stunt drivers that we might know from the Formula Drift scene?

SK: In this film? Nobody from the past because there was a lot of UK folks. But in the past my stunt double has been (past Formula Drift champion) Samuel Hubbinette and (past) Formula Drift champion Rhys Millen. Samuel has been my double since Tokyo Drift. So, all those stunts, that crazy drifting, that’s all Samuel. Now we have face-replacement technology where Sam can literally drive, and then my face is put on his face. They can put my reaction to it.

AW: You grew up in Georgia. Was there any kind of a car scene when you were growing up?

SK: In Georgia, the reason I have this seed planted in me in terms of the love affair or the connection with old cars is, I had a neighbor, an old Korean War vet, that didn’t have any kids, and there’d be days where he’s working on a ‘64 Impala, restoring it. I’d be able to sit in the garage and be a fly on the wall and ask questions to this man. I’d go, ‘Hey, how do you order that trim? What does SS mean? What does that mean? Why is it so important to you for it to be factory correct? What is the OEM? Where do you order it and why do you do it?’

And how methodical and patient and disciplined this gentleman was in restoring his car was empowering to me. It taught me something as a kid that yeah, there’s a connectivity, there’s a love affair, and the relationship between a person and their car. That’s why I feel like I can look at anybody’s car and kind of tell what that person’s personality or his lifestyle is, like, what’s important to him? Are they family centric? Are they emotionally show offy? What are they into? Are they into history? Are they into status? Is there a checkbook balance when you open the glove box? You can tell a lot about somebody by their car. That time in that garage with that Impala, and having a man like that just share quietly without words, just being able to be a part of that, is why I feel so grateful that I get to be around all these cars.

AW: When did you first get a cool car for yourself? Was that as a result of your success in the movie? Or did you have something interesting before that?

SK: Well, for the JDM lovers, I did. My first cool car I ever had was a car that my parents got me after college to convince me to go to law school, to give up this dream of being an actor. My dad showed up with this 1993 Mazda FD RX-7. It was red, it was purely factory, but boy was this a car for a kid in 1994. Like, this was dope. This was the coolest thing I ever had. And the connective tissue to Tokyo Drift is, that’s what Han drives in Tokyo Drift, he has the Veilside FD. So it was weird—it feels like cars are foreshadowing, they’ve been part of, not only my personal life, but even my professional life, to have that car convert over to there.

But I couldn’t afford to maintain that car. I couldn’t afford insurance or even general maintenance. I remember the turbos went out and I was like, ‘I can’t afford this car.’ So I just kept it in the garage because I was taking the bus to go back to school and go to work and stuff. And years later, I sold that car for my down payment on my first house in North Hollywood. So that house was like $170,000. And when I sold that Mazda on Autotrader, it sold in one day, and that was when people actually had to call you, and this guy bought it for 15 grand. I used that money for part of the down payment for this house. So that was my first cool car.

AW: I assume that you have a car collection and I think I know at least two of the cars. The white Rocket Bunny Z and the orange 510 with the S2000 engine in it.

SK: I don’t own the 510, that’s Eric Aguilar of Eric’s Garage. I call him Doc Z , the Doctor of Zs. Eric is famous as a front-wheel-drive Honda quarter-mile legend, a Southern Cali legend. Eric’s Racing, they specialize in the Datsun S30 240 chassis and 510s. He built this 1971 Monte Carlo red and black East African Safari homage, an LA streetcar. That’s what I call it. Have you ever seen the East African Safari winner, the Datsun 240 in red and black?

The owner of the car that I bought it from was a doctor as well that never finished building the car out. So that is a stock L24, well, L24 Plus. Everything is stock—it has Weber carbs but everything is bigger. It has a bigger cam and it’s, I would call it a street-legal rally homage car that you can still drive around in LA. The ‘73 240 Pandem Rocket Bunny kit, that was my first car. And that car is symbolic of anybody who loves 240 Zs because it means a lot to the JDM culture or to the 240 Z S30 community because it represented this resurgence of love affair for old classic JDM cars.

AW: One of the great strengths of the Fast and Furious franchise is its multi-cultural cast. Everybody can see themselves in at least one of the characters. Is that one of the big draws, one of the great strengths of this series?

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Just some of the cast of Fast X.NBC Universal

SK: Oh, yeah, diversity and representation of not only, in terms of the color of your skin, but your ethos, your temperament, your humor. Everybody has the comedian in their circle. They have the strong guy, the alpha leader, and you have the loving Mom character, the love interest character, and you have the tough girl, the tomboy. And it’s great, because from the beginning of the franchise people always wondered, ‘What’s the secret sauce of this movie about cars? What’s the big deal?’ I remember early on, people would kind of make fun of us, ‘It’s a hokey action movie.’

But why does it stand the test of time, and why do so many people throughout the world connect with this and connect with the characters? And, again, it’s representation, you see yourself on screen. It’s the simple and many-times-made-fun-of theme of family. It’s something that anybody can relate with. The camera doesn’t lie. And the people who are fortunate to be a part of this journey with us, amazing human beings, we all became family, we became friends. And then we, all together, and fans of the franchise inside the movie, have experienced loss together. We lost a family member.

So, these are the simple things that have allowed us to continue. At the end of the day, it’s an honor to be one of the parts in the overall puzzle to entertain people, to give a reason for people to come together and get in the theater. This is a movie, Mark, that you want to watch in the theater with your friends and family.

I’m so proud of it. People go, ‘What do you love about this film?’ It’s a film that I want to share with people that I love—my friends and my family, my car friends, my personal family, people that don’t know anything about cars, right?

Fast X opens Friday, May 19. Do you plan to see it? Let us know in the comments.