Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,



RUNNING TIME: 126 mins


Bullet Train

A train is speeding its way from Tokyo to Kyoto. The passengers include; an assassin codenamed Ladybug who’s been ordered by his handler Maria Beetle to collect a briefcase aboard the train after her normal contact Carver is forced to call out due to illness; two hitman brothers Tangerine and Lemon who’ve just recovered yakuza crime boss White Death’s kidnapped son and the briefcase containing his $10 million ransom and are delivering them back to him, Yakuza assassin Yuichi Kimura who’s after the person who pushed and nearly killed his young son off a building; deceptively innocent schoolgirl The Prince who’s actually summoned Kimura to aid her in her plan to kill White Death; The Wolf, an assassin who arrives seeking revenge for the deaths of his wife and his entire cartel, poisoned at their wedding, and his target The Hornet – though who could he or she be?

As you can probably tell from the above synopsis, Bullet Train, a film that can perhaps be summed up by this exchange of dialogue,“I’m going to ruin your life”, “Dude, I don’t even know you” , is nothing if not convoluted, though everything ends up tying together so well the term intricate is more appropriate. It is, indeed, yet another movie that invites us to laugh when somebody is being bloodily killed, but its script by Zac Olkewicz is so well put together, the performances are so spot on, and the whole thing has so much energy that one shouldn’t really complain too much. You could partially describe it as what you might get if you put Smokin’ Aces, Kill Bill and The Gentlemen in a blender, though director David Leitch clearly adopts a Guy Ritchie vibe so much that you’d probably think that Ritchie was the director if you didn’t know better, even though Ritchie tends to prefer things taking place on a more familiar turf; Leitch and Olkewicz, scripting from a novel called “Maria Beetle” by Kotaro Isaka, are clearly very interested in Japan despite the predictable complaints about whitewashing we’ve been having. Its nicely sketched characters continually quip, fight and reveal things about themselves and others on a train which has a whole carriage devoted to the anime character momomon while the plot centres largely around the Japanese underworld. Any possible claustrophobia is prevented by numerous flashbacks, while the whole thing is also very funny at times, a rarity these days for the Doc who doesn’t find himself laughing too often at modern humour – yet there’s also a surprising emotional bent at times in a film which mostly succeeds in its several balancing acts.

Things are very serious indeed at the beginning in an orange-drenched scene set in a hospital room where a small boy lies in a bed. His father Kimura is reminded by his own father The Elder that he wasn’t around when the boy was pushed off a building and only narrowly survived; Kimura promptly sets off to take revenge. Now we meet Brad Pitt’s character Ladybug, and boy doesn’t Pitt, basically playing out of his cameo from The Lost City, seem like he’s having fun here right from the first time we see him, despite finally looking his age [youth never lasts forever]. Ladybug has been away from the job for a while because “Every job I do, somebody dies”. Duh! However, he’s now a much calmer person and intends to carry out his work in a more zen fashion, though how that’s going to be possible in this particular job is a serious question which needs considering. The next people we encounter are Tangerine and Lemon, supposedly brothers even though one’s white and one’s black. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry have so much chemistry that I wouldn’t mind a film just featuring their two characters. One chuckles at their chat frequently, even though it’s sometimes more because of delivery, and sadly this is another one of those movies where a non-white person makes jokes at the expense of white people, even though there’s no way it would ever be the other way around in this peculiar cultural climate we have today. But Lemon basing his knowledge or people on Thomas the Tank Engine leads to much amusement, while Taylor-Johnson is one of those actors who can evoke laughs by swearing. They’ve got this case full of money, plus the son of White Death the man who’s not long taken over the yakuza [though the word “yakuza” is never mentioned curiously].

We’ve already had characters introduced by their names appearing on screen, but now there’s text informing us that we’re be hearing Engelbert Humpledinck as we  flash back to when they rescued the unnamed son, brought on by an arguments about whether they killed twelve men or thirteen. People are killed in a variety of often messy ways while we hear the lyrics of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. Yes, we chuckle, even though it’s a lazy, crass and overused way of trying to be edgy. Kimura is also on the train, but he’s been summoned there by The Prince, who tends to act all sweet even though she’s a schemer and is even the person who pushed Kimura’s son off that building. a bizarre but well modulated performance by Zoey King here. With an associate at the hospital ready to finish the boy off, the Prince forces Kimura to cooperate with her plan to kill White Death at the end of the line. Ladybird comes across the briefcase and takes it, then has to kill another assassin, The Wolf. We get a lengthy flashback detailing The Wolf’s rise and poisoning of his wife and men, leading us to believe that he will be a prominent character. However, he’s then killed off by The Prince before he even gets to see his target The Hornet, which raises the viewer’s engagement even more, because we feel that anybody could be slain aboard this train. Realising the briefcase is missing, Tangerine and Lemon then find White Death’s son dead by poisoning. Who could be responsible? The Prince leads Tangerine to believe Ladybug is responsible, and we finally meet The Hornet, after which the script then delivers a further ten or eleven surprises.

Scenes take place all over the train including on the outside of it, the action coming in short but very frequent bursts in a series of semi-comic fight sequences, usually involving Pitt, who’s in tremendous physical shape [and apparently doing 95% of his own stunts] as he battles several opponents, in scenes which are more brawling with “anything” goes rather than full-on martial arts, but which are good nonetheless, often using the environment Jackie Chan-style. The best melding of humour with action is a fight in the quiet carriage where both combatants aren’t even standing up for some of it and stop whenever one passenger complains about them; it’s brilliantly staged and executed by the actors concerned. There seems to be hardly any CGI in these scenes, which makes the iffy visuals during some large scale set pieces stick out somewhat [for the last time, if you’re CGI budget isn’t too high USE SOME MODELS], and when Hiroyuki Sanada shows up to hopefully join Andrew Koji in some swordplay, it’s disappointing, because the filming style emphasises cool, comic-booky shots over us being able to fully see and appreciate the action – we want to see Koji, especially, in action. But for the most part this is far more the Leitch of Atomic Blonde and John Wick than the far inferior Leitch of the far more studio-controlled Deadpool 2 and Hobbs And Shaw, a Leitch who feels like he can do more of what he wants to do, spurred on by a darn good script which may, if you boil it down, largely consist of characters explaining new things about the plot to other characters, [in fact come to think of it there’s a slight whiff of Agatha Christie here and there, and it’s rather pleasing to see her influence being seen a bit more in movies again] but which is nonetheless so much fun to move through while also requiring that the viewer actually keep up.

Some gags are distinctly old hat, including the use of a state of the art toilet, though being a juvenile sort I personally find toilets amusing so had no problem with that. We even get the situation where two people are fighting and are interrupted by somebody else, whereupon the brawlers act cordially with each other until the other person leaves, though it’s a particularly well done variant of this very familiar scenario, and leads to one of the film’s very best gags, with us being introduced to a final character which we’ve actually seen lots of already – a bottle of water – and showing us its progress through the movie. It’s really impressive how well the tale has been put together, with no major plot holes that I could discern [and as I get older I’m increasingly irritated by such things], as well as the way much of it ends up hinging on familial relationships. As some of the performers are able to show a different side to the characters that they’re playing, we find ourselves caring about most of the people that we’re watching even though they’re vicious killers, including even the main bad guy, White Death himself, played by a barely recognisable but an even more intimidating than usual Michael Shannon, though the most prominent emotional element is the relationship, which is carried out over the phone, between Ladybug and his handler Maria Beetle, who basically acts as his therapist. Are you still wondering who the person playing Maria could be? Perhaps a missed opportunity is the soundtrack; while there are some cool needle drops including a Japanese cover version of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero”, plus flipping “Staying Alive” yet again, how great would it have been instead to have lots of songs about trains; there sure are plenty of them and at the time of writing I can think of three which could have been employed in an ironic fashion.

Moving like a [sorry] bullet, Bullet Train soon gets quite hectic very quickly and then stays hectic, maybe packing in too much; like its major setting, one feels oneself wishing for it to stop every now and again so we can collect our breath, but then again it’s not that kind of film. Time will tell if it’ll become one of the classic train movies, but it sure is a contender, and, in a year which so far has been distinctly weak in terms of mainstream motion pictures, Bullet Train is a rather nice surprise.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆



Avatar photo
About Dr Lenera 1980 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.