The Fast and the Furious franchise is back with its ninth installment, F9, which kicked off its box office run over the weekend in China, South Korea and some other international territories. Among the major release’s all-star cast is John Cena, who has joined the Fast family to play Dom Torretto’s brother Jakob. Cena has been doing a round of overseas press to promote the action movie, and one of his comments is generating a ton of backlash.
While speaking to Taiwan broadcaster TVBS, the actor and WWE wrestler became subject to criticism when he called Taiwan a “country” in fluent Mandarin. John Cena’s comments threw him in the middle of a complicated and sore subject considering Taiwan is not recognized as an independent country by China’s claims. Following the comments that angered many of his Chinese fans, Cena apologized with these words (translated from his message in Mandarin) on Weibo:
I'm sorry for my mistake. I must say now, [it's] very, very, very, very important [that] I love, and respect even more, China and the Chinese people.
John Cena backtracking on his comments that referred to Taiwan as a country caused those in support of Taiwan to now be upset over his apology as well. No matter how you slice it, Cena has angered members of the biggest box office market for the Fast and Furious franchise.
F9 is coming off a huge first weekend at the box office, scoring a huge $163 million debut amongst its first eight international box office markets. Over 80% of those earnings came from China, with $136 million of theater tickets sold for the action movie. The opening scored the highest-grossing numbers for a Hollywood movie since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring. It also allowed the Fast franchise to pass the $6 billion mark in earnings.
For over 70 years, China has claimed Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of their civil war. When distinctions such as John Cena calling Taiwan a “country” are made, it instantly throws hot water over the actor for taking a side. Beijing uses its economic power to police speech around the topic of Taiwan being a country, and has pulled Hollywood movies from theaters before for a variety of reasons.
John Cena has amassed a major Chinese following over the years, including over 600,000 followers on Weibo (which is basically China’s version of Twitter). Additionally, the actor has been studying Mandarin for years and speaks it fluently to his fans on the platform.