Bullet Train
Bullet Train (poster).jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Leitch
Screenplay byZak Olkewicz
Based onMaria Beetle
by Kōtarō Isaka
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyJonathan Sela
Edited byElisabet Ronaldsdottir
Music byDominic Lewis
Production
companies
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dates
  • July 18, 2022 (2022-07-18) (Grand Rex)
  • August 5, 2022 (2022-08-05) (United States)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$85.9–90 million[2][3]
Box office$118.2 million[2][4]

Bullet Train is a 2022 American action comedy film starring Brad Pitt as a former assassin who must battle fellow killers while riding a Shinkansen (a Japanese bullet train). The film, which was the initiative of producer Antoine Fuqua, was directed by David Leitch, based on a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz that adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. In addition to Pitt, the film also stars Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, and Sandra Bullock.

Principal photography began in Los Angeles in November 2020 and wrapped in March 2021. Bullet Train premiered in Paris on July 18, 2022, and was theatrically released in the United States by Sony Pictures on August 5, 2022. The film has grossed $118 million on a production budget of about $90 million, and received mixed reviews from critics.

Plot

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A former professional assassin, codenamed "Ladybug", resumes work with a newly optimistic attitude after attending therapy, but he is haunted by numerous work-related accidental deaths and is convinced his luck is bad.

His mission is to steal a briefcase aboard a bullet train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, filling in for the person who was contracted for the job—Carver, who is ill. Containing a $10 million ransom, the briefcase is held by a pair of brothers—"Tangerine" and "Lemon"—who are also professional killers. They were hired by "The White Death" to recover it and his kidnapped son. The brothers are wary as the White Death specifically contracted them because of their participation in a job in Bolivia.

Meanwhile, in First Class, a seemingly innocent young woman named "The Prince" reveals to the criminal, Yuichi Kimura, that she pushed his son off a roof in a complicated scheme to get him on the train to help her kill the White Death. She rigs the ransom briefcase and Kimura's gun with explosives to kill the White Death.

Ladybug steals the briefcase but "The Wolf" prevents him from leaving the train. The Wolf boards the train, seeking revenge for the poisoning of his wife and his entire cartel at their wedding. He mistakenly thinks Ladybug is responsible and attempts to kill him. The Wolf dies in the fight, stabbed in the heart by his own knife and breaking his neck on the briefcase. While this occurs, Tangerine and Lemon discover that the briefcase missing and the White Death's son has been killed with boomslang poison—the same poison used in the massacre at the Wolf's wedding.

The Prince convinces Tangerine that Ladybug was responsible for killing the White Death's son. Ladybug has to subdue Lemon after failed negotiations, drugging his water bottle with sleeping powder and accidentally freeing a snake. Ladybug and Tangerine fight to a stalemate, with Ladybug wanting help in convincing the White Death's men that his son and the briefcase are safe. It fails when their cover is blown, so Ladybug knocks Tangerine off the train at the next stop. Undeterred, Tangerine leaps on the train as it departs.

Ladybug then encounters the Wolf's target, "The Hornet", an assassin who uses boomslang venom. The Hornet also killed the White Death's son. Having killed a concession girl to change her disguise, the Hornet attempts to poison Ladybug. They are both jabbed with a hypodermic needle full of poison. However, Ladybug takes the Hornet's only dose of antivenom and she dies instead.

At the same time, Lemon becomes suspicious of Kimura and the Prince and shoots the former multiple times before succumbing to the drugged water bottle. Climbing back inside the train, Tangerine finds his brother's body and confronts the Prince, as Lemon had marked her as suspicious using a Thomas the Tank Engine sticker. The Prince gets Ladybug to fight Tangerine. In the struggle, Tangerine's gun goes off and kills him.

Kimura's father, "The Elder", boards the train. A former Yakuza lieutenant, his wife and clan were killed in the White Death's rise to power. Ensuring his grandson's safety by having the Prince's associate killed in the hospital, he and Ladybug find Kimura and Lemon still alive.

As they all prepare for the awaiting ambush, the train arrives in Kyoto, and Ladybug is met by the White Death and his men. The Prince, the White Death's estranged daughter, tries to goad him into firing Kimura's booby-trapped gun, but he instead tells her she was never part of his plan. As Ladybug uses the briefcase as a diversion, the White Death reveals that he hired all the assassins aboard the train to avenge his wife's death.

When the White Death escaped to Bolivia after Tangerine and Lemon massacred his men, his wife was severely wounded by Carver. She soon died as the Hornet had poisoned the only surgeon who could have saved her. The White Death arranged for all parties involved, including the Wolf, to kill each other.

Before the White Death can kill Ladybug, who took the job in Carver's place, the briefcase bomb is triggered, knocking them both onto the train, which Lemon sets back in motion. The train speeds out of control as the Elder duels the White Death while Kimura, Lemon and Ladybug fight off his henchmen. Lemon tackles a thug into a river below a train trestle. The train derails and slams into several buildings. Ladybug is held at gunpoint by the White Death, who dies when Kimura's gun explodes—having been boobytrapped by his daughter, the Prince.

Ladybug, Kimura, and his father are confronted by the Prince. Brandishing a machinegun, she proclaims herself to be the new White Death, but is suddenly run over by Lemon driving a tangerine truck. Maria, who had been instructing Ladybug by phone, rescues him from the train wreckage. He now believes his luck may have changed.

Cast

Production

Bullet Train had been initially developed by Antoine Fuqua —who co-produced the film— through his Fuqua Films banner.[6] It was originally intended to be a serious action thriller in the vein of Die Hard (1988), but the project turned into a light-hearted action comedy during the development process.[7][8]

It was announced in June 2020 that Sony Pictures had hired David Leitch to direct the adaptation of the Kōtarō Isaka novel from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz,[6] with Brad Pitt being cast in the film the following month.[9] Joey King subsequently entered negotiations for a supporting role,[10] while in September, Andrew Koji was added,[11] with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry joining in October.[12][13] In November 2020, Zazie Beetz,[14] Masi Oka,[15] Michael Shannon,[16] Logan Lerman,[17] and Hiroyuki Sanada joined the cast,[18] with Leitch revealing in December that Karen Fukuhara had also joined, and that Jonathan Sela would serve as cinematographer.[19] That same month, Bad Bunny (credited as his real name, Benito A Martínez Ocasio) was also added to the cast,[20] and Sandra Bullock joined the following year in February to replace Lady Gaga, who had dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with House of Gucci (2021).[21]

Production for Bullet Train began in October 2020 in Los Angeles, during the COVID-19 pandemic.[22] Filming started on November 16, 2020,[23] and wrapped in March 2021.[24] The producers constructed 3 full train cars, and LED screens with video footage of the Japanese countryside were hung outside the windows of the train set to help immerse the actors.[25] According to the film's stunt coordinator, Greg Rementer, Pitt performed 95 percent of his stunts in the film.[26] Variety.com reported that Pitt was paid $20 million.[27]

Release

Bullet Train was originally set to be released on April 8, 2022, before being delayed to July 15, 2022,[28] again to July 29,[29] and then to August 5.[30] It had its world premiere at the Grand Rex in Paris, France on July 18, 2022.[31]

Reception

Box office

As of August 16, 2022, Bullet Train has grossed $58.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $60 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $118.2 million.[2][4]

In the United States and Canada, Bullet Train was released alongside Easter Sunday, and was projected to gross $26–30 million from 4,357 theaters in its opening weekend.[3][32] The film made $12.6 million on its first day, including $4.6 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $30 million, topping the box office.[33] The film made $13.4 million in its sophomore weekend, remaining in first.[34]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, 53% of 289 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.60/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Bullet Train's colorful cast and high-speed action are almost enough to keep things going after the story runs out of track."[35] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 49 out of 100, based on 59 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[36] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak gave the film an 82% overall positive score, with 63% saying they would definitely recommend it.[33]

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film 3.5 out of 4, calling it "wildly entertaining" and praised the performances, "the creative and blood-spattered action sequences" and most of all the writing.[37] Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "Bullet Train feels like it comes from the same brain as Snatch, wearing its pop style on its sleeve — a Kill Bill-like mix of martial arts, manga and gabby hitman movie influences, minus the vision or wit that implies."[38]

Representation of race in casting

The casting of several non-Asian actors, including Brad Pitt and Joey King, prompted accusations of whitewashing as their characters were Japanese in Kōtarō Isaka's novel. David Inoue, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, criticized the casting, explaining that while American actors would have been appropriate if the setting was changed to the United States, the filmmakers used the novel's Japanese setting while keeping Japanese characters in the film's background, strengthening charges of whitewashing. Inoue also questioned the actors' allyship to the Asian community for knowingly accepting whitewashed roles, and further criticized the film for pushing the "belief that Asian actors in the leading roles cannot carry a blockbuster," despite the recent successes of Asian-led films such as Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). Despite being cast in the film, King previously said, "I do not believe a white woman should play a character of color. Not me or any other white woman for that matter."[39] Eric Francisco of Inverse wrote, "Unless you saw the individual character posters, you’d be unlikely to think Bullet Train actually stars any Asian talent. Hollywood supposedly doesn’t cast Asian leads because they aren’t stars, but the truth is, they aren’t stars because Hollywood won’t cast Asian leads. How can audiences get excited about buying tickets to see Asian actors when their existence in a movie is barely acknowledged?"[40]

When asked about the casting, author Isaka defended the film and described his characters as "ethnically malleable," maintaining that his original Japanese setting and context were irrelevant as they were "not real people, maybe they're not even Japanese."[41] Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group president Sanford Panitch highlighted Isaka's views to defend the casting, reassuring that the film would honor the novel's "Japanese soul" while giving the opportunity to cast big name stars and adapt it on a "global scale." Bullet Train screenwriter Zak Olkewicz argued that the decision to cast beyond Japanese or Asian actors proved “the strength of [Isaka]’s work" as it was a story that could "transcend race." Director David Leitch noted that discussions had taken place during pre-production to change the film's setting, but it was ultimately decided to keep Isaka's original location Tokyo due to its international appeal.[42] Jana Monji of AsAm News highlighted the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Asians in the film and responded to Letich's comment, "That sounds like White privilege providing an excuse for exclusion."[43] Francisco mentioned that the Japanese author and most audiences in Asia "enjoy their own domestic film industry and go to Hollywood for the spectacle of foreigners," noting the differences between Asians in Asia and Asian American issues.[44] Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, criticized Isaka's statement, "What an embarrassing sellout. Guess he’s more interested in counting the money he’s getting for selling his work (and soul) to Hollywood and hoping for sequels." He also thought Leitch's comment was also an excuse for the "tired Hollywood practice of exploiting Asian source material, leaving out most of the Asians in it, and calling the casting of white, black and Latino actors a triumph for diversity." He continued, "Unfortunately, people in Asian countries are used to seeing movies with all-Asian casts, so when Asian-sourced properties get turned into big-budget motion pictures, they find it refreshing to see white, black and Latino stars in them, not caring that the Asian content or culture of the original has been all but abandoned. By contrast, Asian Americans, who are still hungry to be seen, heard and understood in their own country [America], perceive it as more whitewashing.”[45]

References

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  40. ^ Francisco, Eric. "'Bullet Train' trailers prove Hollywood still hasn't learned one crucial lesson". Inverse. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  41. ^ Rich, Motoko (July 27, 2022). "The Japanese Author Behind 'Bullet Train' Is OK That the Film Isn't So Japanese". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 27, 2022.
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  44. ^ Francisco, Eric. "Review: 'Bullet Train' proves Hollywood can still move backward". Inverse. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
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