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John Cena’s 'Fast and Furious' roundabout

The Hollywood star’s apology that wasn’t, and what it says about Chinese influence

John Cena apologizes for "a mistake" and says he "loves and respects China and Chinese people." (Weibo screenshots)

John Cena apologizes for "a mistake" and says he "loves and respects China and Chinese people." (Weibo screenshots)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – “Justice is coming,” screams one of the promotional quotes for the high-speed action thriller "F9," aka "Fast & Furious 9."

In fact, the opposite seems to be true for this particular movie, if the actions of one of its stars are anything to go by. John Cena is a hugely successful WWE wrestler, a five-time United States Champion, four-time world tag team champion, and a 16-time world champion.

His acting career is a little less distinguished. According to IMDB he is best known for "Transformers" spin-off "Bumblebee," little-known Judd Apatow comedy, "Trainwreck," and action movie "The Marine."

A career in diplomacy, however, does not appear to be in the cards.

Apology that wasn’t

In case you haven’t already heard, on May 8, Cena released a promotional video for his latest movie outing, the 10th film (counterintuitively) in the seemingly never-ending "Fast and Furious" franchise.

To his credit, Cena delivered his spiel in Mandarin and announced that "Taiwan will be the first country to see 'Fast & Furious 9.'" This seemingly innocuous statement was rendered meaningless when Taiwan’s COVID-19 outbreak caused cinemas to close and the "F9" showing had to be postponed.

But the video made its way onto Chinese social media where the frenzied masses of China’s patriotic netizen army delivered their usual brand of anti-American and anti-Taiwan outrage:

"You can't speak Chinese, please shut up,” one wrote, while another added, “Foreign slaves are disgraceful.”

If an American audience made such comments to a Chinese actor, all hell would break loose, but given Cena had committed the heinous crime of calling Taiwan a country, all was considered fair game.

For the purposes of this article, we will skirt past the self-evident fact that, no matter how much Chinese netizens and their Chinese Communist Party (CCP) overlords don't like it, Taiwan is, self-evidently, a country.

Elephant in the room

Instead, let’s take a look at the mea culpa that Cena was inevitably pressured to deliver by the "F9" producers who were themselves doubtless encouraged to act by their bank manager. Speaking once more in Mandarin, Cena explained that he was "very sorry for my mistake" and added a couple of comments to the effect that, “I love and respect China and Chinese people.”

On closer examination, Cena’s apology isn’t really an apology at all, which is perhaps not a huge surprise given Cena’s Republican tendencies. He says he is sorry for his mistake but doesn’t identify what that mistake was and is careful to bookend his comments by saying that he loves the country of China and its people.

The elephant in the room is the CCP, leading to the inevitable conclusion that John Cena isn’t such a big fan of them. This non-apology only served to infuriate Chinese netizens still further.

"When he's in Taiwan province he says it's a country, when he's in China he says he respects Chinese people. He's two-faced and I don't understand why Chinese people are so lenient with him,” one critic typed belligerently.

"Unless you say in Chinese, 'Taiwan is part of China,' we will not accept your apology,” howled another.

Where's Justin Lin?

But with "F9" grossing an estimated US$163 million worldwide on its limited release so far, the chances are that neither Cena, his producers, nor their bank managers are too bothered with what the Weibo masses think any more.

One person curiously absent from the debate so far is the Taiwan-American director of "F9," Justin Lin (林詣彬). He was born and raised in Taipei until the age of eight, when his family emigrated to California.

It is a reasonable assumption that Lin’s lineage might be the reason why Taiwan was chosen for the "F9" premiere, but he has kept his head down and let Cena take the flak over this particular controversy.

It is an interesting observation that the sizable Taiwanese expat community in the U.S. is usually fairly vocal about its support for Taiwan’s right to self-determination. But as soon as individuals like Lin rise to prominence, their voices seem to weaken on the matter — no doubt as the pressure from China begins to be applied.

One particularly perceptive Chinese netizen appears to have the reasons behind this sussed, saying of Cena’s so-called apology, “Changed his tune just for money, get the hell out of China.”

Dare I suggest that Lin and certain others need to take a long hard look at themselves? Yes, I dare.

Inconvenient truths

Let’s be honest, while John Cena issued an apology of sorts, he knows full well that Taiwan is a country. Everyone in the Western world does.

China and its netizens can scream and shout and stamp their feet all they want, demanding apologies and complaining about “hurt feelings.” But this doesn’t negate the inconvenient and incontrovertible truth about Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Much like the "Fast and Furious" franchise, China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan continue to be dragged out and humored. The questions is whether, in true "Fast and Furious" fashion, it all ends in a massive pile up, or whether there really is justice in the end.