Justin Lin says he's "lucky" to make the biggest Fast & Furious yet with F9

Latest trailer drop meant we spoke to the director


David Light

Published: Thu 15 Apr 2021, 12:48 AM

When Hollywood director Justin Lin landed in Dubai in 2015 to shoot the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, he was rightly lauded as one of Tinsel Town’s leading action auteurs. His instant impact on the Fast & Furious series of films from Tokyo Drift (2006) to Fast & Furious 6 (2013) had grossed just shy of a combined $2billion at the box office and, since Star Trek Beyond’s (2016) commercial achievements, the filmmaker’s success has only really maintained that upward trajectory. Which was a fortunate twist of fate, Lin told us when we spoke this week. Hitching his wagon the F&F car films proved to be the movie that not only set him up financially, but took his career in an unforeseen fruitful direction.

“I had my little credit card indie movie in 2002 at Sundance. I was still in debt when I did Tokyo Drift and then it changed my life,” Lin said when we virtually met to discuss F9’s new trailer drop and the movie’s upcoming release in May.

“I didn’t grow up wanting to make action movies. It is something I tried and I ended up loving.

“It has been 15 years and I realise this franchise has offered me something so rare personally. I have been able to grow as a filmmaker, but also not be alone. We have all grown together. We all have kids and they are growing up together.”

Even causal Fast watchers will be aware of the previous eight installments’ emphasis on family. Not a traditional unit, the main characters played by actors including Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Vin Diesel are united as kin through their many petrol-fuelled adventures. Graduating from small-time street racing hoodlums to taking on international terrorists, the plot’s bombast may increase in volume, yet it is the essential core of familiar faces and their interactions which often sees people returning for more.

“Up until this movie (F9), a lot of times the exploration of family is through shared experience, not necessarily by blood,” Lin said. “I feel that in real life too, as an immigrant with kids whose aunts and uncles are people I have a shared experience with in these movies, but am not related to.”

Born in Taipei before moving to California at the age of eight, Lin’s promising film career began as most do, on the smaller scale, with credits such as Shopping For Fangs (1997) and Better Luck Tomorrow (2002). Tokyo Drift was only his third feature.

“Tokyo Drift was in a very different place (compared to the later outings) and the point then was to earn these relationships,” Lin said about his launch onto the big time and the evolution of the series’ themes.

“It went global and just got bigger and bigger, but every time we sit down and talk with each other. We make sure we don’t take it for granted and do the same thing.”

Lin’s first meeting with lead Diesel, when pitching the cameo opportunity in TD, was when this enduring relationship was born.

“I was talking to him about me coming in and connecting with the universe. We ended up chatting for about four hours by his pool. The stuff we talked about actually took four films before it came to life!”

Even by Fast & Furious standards, the ninth episode looks to be the grandest production yet. First there’s the introduction of wrestler John Cena as Dominic Toretto’s (Diesel) brother hired to assassinate his elder sibling. The feud already has fans constantly refreshing the cinemas’ booking sites for tickets, however, from the trailer we believe the idea of flying cars and even greater live stunts will really draw in the masses.

“That’s part of the fun,” Lin said about the pictures’ increasing sizes. “When we started off, I know for a fact I didn’t anticipate for us to be here. Our philosophy has always been: ‘if we’re lucky enough to earn another chapter, let’s go all out and really earn it.’ I think that comes through the evolution of the characters and I feel if we can take care of that, it’s also our job to push the boundaries when it comes to the action.”

Lin is returning to Fast after a seven or so year break. What is he most looking forward to?

“Something in their past (Cena) has caught up to the characters. So we are going to answer a lot of questions from the last eight chapters. Tonally, we revisit the characters, but we’ll be experiencing things for the first time too.”

Thoughts on coming back to Dubai to film Fast & Furious

Before every Fast film I usually jump on a plane and fly around the world. The difference between this and say Star Trek, which is out in space, is that film is mainly CGI. For Fast it’s always about finding a place to shut down 10 city blocks. On this one we needed the right feel and location. I love locations that are living and thriving. We couldn’t do it on this one, but I hope we’ll have a few more shots (at Dubai).

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