An (un)expected Journey

The newly released action comedy Bullet Train from director David Leitch is a nice take on the high-speed bullet train in Japan. The experienced journey of 300 miles is a mix of emotions that pays off with the right attitude.

By Katharina Bews

Picture: Via Pixabay, CC0

Probably everyone has experienced the great relief of finding the perfect spot on a train, followed by the annoyance of a hyperactive child choosing the seat behind. In the recently released movie Bullet Train by David Leitch, the protagonist Ladybug experiences something even worse. The former assassin, played by Brad Pitt, is accompanied by more than a few annoying children on his »short trip« on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. Rather than just fulfilling an easy job, Ladybug is suddenly confronted with five other contract killers.

A Series of Miscellaneous Events

In contrast to the assassin’s name Ladybug, which is a symbol of good luck, Brad Pitt’s character faces a series of unfortunate incidents. At least in his opinion. His job is to smuggle a briefcase with unknown content out of the shinkansen, but each time the former assassin is prevented from leaving the train by various circumstances. This consequently leads to the whole film taking place on the train.

Bullet Train

Based on the book Maria Beetle by Kotaro Isaka
Director: David Leitch
Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, and others

The Twins, a famous hitman brother duo, travel on the same train. Ladybug is already familiar with them – and does not particularly like them. Instructed by the White Death, the Twins supervise the safe transport of the briefcase, which Ladybug wants to steal, and the White Death’s son to Kyoto. The White Death is the actual villain of this cat-and-mouse game, he controls the Japanese underground scene and has a reputation for being extremely brutal. His identity will not be unveiled until the end of the movie.

More and more hitmen join the scenery on the train, all with different missions and unusual codenames. The plot takes place in different train compartments, giving the individual fight scenes some more variety. Throughout the movie, the topic of fate and being lucky is an important one. Another hitman, The Prince, contrasts with ladybug with a constant streak of good luck. It is nevertheless determined by fate, as Japanese culture teaches, that in the end, everything happens as it is supposed to.

»Fate for me is another word for bad luck.«

Ladybug

By just reading the plot of the movie, Bullet Train seems to be like every other mindless action movie. But as simple as it might sound, director David Leitch actually presents a successful film adaptation of the novel by Kotaro Isak. Although there are a few unrealistic action scenes: With massive amount of blood and the resulting casual behaviour by the characters, the movie has more of the charm of a classic Tarantino movie. But as a Tarantino requires a specific taste to fully appreciate it, so does Leitch’s movie.

A Divided Point of View

What has been criticised, however, is the movie’s whitewashing. Although the film is set in Japan, the cast is predominantly white. This contradicts Isak’s book but does not seem to bother the author much. Instead, he hopes that the movie’s famous cast will attract more people from the West to read his books, which are already quite popular in Japan.

The comedy part of the movie is pleasantly refreshing due to the hitmen adapting easily to the chaotic outcome of a new plot twist. Brad Pitt’s character takes the whole situation more as a joke than an actual attack on his life. Confusion is guaranteed when watching the film, as it is never too certain whether a person is actually dead or not.

When shifting one’s focus away from the story itself, the famous Japanese bullet train is quite interesting to explore throughout the movie. The shinkansen, the quickest train on earth, is quite different from usual trains. With a high standard of comfort and a speaking smart toilet, the surrounding seems quite surreal.  However, not much of that will be left by the end of the movie.

Just Almost a Successful Movie

Bullet Train presents a mixture of outstanding actors such as Brad Pitt, Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Michael Shannon and brings them together on a wild ride on the fastest train on earth. New celebrities continually join the scenery and surprise with their short appearances. Channing Tatum pops out of nowhere as a passenger, contributing more in a comedic way than by adding value to the storyline.

All in all, Bullet Train sparks mixed feelings. Distancing itself to its genre as an action movie, it thankfully leaves out never-ending fighting scenes and patriotic speeches. Unfortunately, the movie could not stay away from physically impossible stunts, like a walk on top of a train that is moving at 300 kilometres per hour. But it seems some clichés just need to be fulfilled in order to produce a US-American action movie. Bullet Train is therefore not always to be taken seriously, but without high expectations, one can have a wonderful journey on the shinkansen.

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