Former Clarkston resident Sung Kang stars in Fox's 'Gang Related'

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Former Clarkston resident Sung Kang, best known as Han Seoul-Oh in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, has joined the ensemble cast of a summer Fox series "Gang Related," which debuts Thursday.

He recently returned to Atlanta to spread the word about the cop show. Sung's character Tae Kim is part of the LAPD's gang task force. He is a supporting main cast member who, in the pilot, gets a few minutes to show that he's a tough dude with a dark past and a very high threshold of rpain. (More of his past, he said, will be fleshed out in the seventh episode.)

The lead, Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez) is a cop who is also secretly linked with one of the toughest gangs in town. The focus of the show revolves around him and the tricky double life he leads while his own department bears down on the gang.

The show has a breezy "Fast and Furious" feel to it, partly because its executive producer Chris Morgan wrote for several of those films. Morgan also designed the Tae Kim role for Kang. Kang said he's grateful Morgan gave him the role, his first regular shot on TV. And Morgan enabled him to incorporate his ideas about his Korean roots into his own character.

"It's a mix between a procedural and 'The Wire,' " Kang said. There's a crime every week but on-going story threads are mixed in as well.

Kang notes that since they don't have the dollars of a big-budget film, there are fewer rock'em sock'em action scenes and car chases and more character/dialogue driven scenes. (Ultimately, it's not nearly as edgy or gritty as if it were on FX or HBO given the limitations of broadcast TV.)

He grew up as a military child, spent a few years in Clarkston, then Gainesville. He said the South at the time had a lot of "Stand By Me" elements to it. "I'd go in the woods and play cops and robbers," he said. "We had bb guns, went camping."

Kang finished high school in California but hung out with a lot of Asians Americans for the first time in college at UC Riverside. At that point, he wanted to go into acting instead of law. His parents were naturally concerned. "The reality of Hollywood is so foreign to them," he said. "They were very upset."

Jason Scott Lee inspired him in the early 1990s before Lee's sad death. But he was not a martial arts guy and avoided roles like that. He landed in L.A., took classes, found mentors. He got very small roles (e.g. "Waiter No. 2.") To pay the bills, he actually did wait tables, the stereotypical job actors grab in L.A. He gave himself five years to break through. Then "Better Luck Tomorrow" came along, a breakthrough film in and of itself with an Asian-American cast. (Among the investors? MC Hammer.)

This led to his role on "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift." He thought that would lead to a raft of other jobs. But it didn't. He is still trying to figure out how to find that opening and reach the next level.

This TV role, for sure, is a next step.

[UPDATE: Unfortunately for Kang, "Gang Related" opened rather soft with 2.93 million viewers at 0.9  18-49 rating. "Last Comic Standing," returning after a four-year absence, drew a relatively solid 5.4 million, 1.7 18-49 rating.)

TV preview

"Gang Related," 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox, starting May 22