Thus the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious (still the greatest sequel title ever btw), was left with only Paul Walker, the whitebread cornball cop who was nobody’s favourite character. The original idea was for Ja Rule, who was then at the height of his popularity, to step up from his cameo to take the co-lead, but he turned it down because either he wanted more money, or he thought it wasn’t good enough for him (He told MTV in 2002: “I just felt it wasn’t the best move for me as far as what I want to do in Hollywood right now. I’m really trying to do this acting thing very seriously.”). So the cast was filled out with new characters played by Ludacris (on was on the up as Ja Rule was on the way down), Tyrese, then-hot Ruff Ryders rapper Jin, Eva Mendes and Japanese-American model Devon Aoki, with Boyz N The Hood director John Singleton taking the reigns, and the film instantly became more hip-hop. It’s like the first movie was ripped in two, with xXx taking all the rock stuff and 2 Fast getting all the rap stuff — and history shows who the winner was there.
This move was actually exactly why the franchise has remained so relevant — they just added in a load of cool people who felt very ‘now’ at the time. And this had a very curious consequence: Paul Walker was now the only white face. This would continue throughout the rest of the series. The next part - Tokyo Drift - was a very direct-to-video-feeling ‘sequel in name only’, with a teen Paul Walker surrogate getting involved in Tokyo’s underground racing scene. But it brought on both Taiwainese-American director Justin Lin (the man who’d revolutionise the series over the next four instalments), and introduce Sung Kang’s Han, who is still probably the most prominent Asian character in Hollywood franchise filmmaking outside of a Rush Hour or Karate Kid movie.