By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
FYI, there are no staff on Tokyo’s bullet trains. So in case you need to kill, maim, yell really loud, walk around covered in blood, or the like, I highly recommend this as a location. Of course, there is that one conductor (Masi Oka) who always shows up right when you don’t have a ticket. And a single, kawaii server (Karen Fukuhara) who is too polite to say anything when she interrupts your fist fight.
Here we are on the rollicking ride that is “Bullet Train,” the action movie we’ve been waiting for, it seems like forever, that is such a perfect blend of humor, gore, music, and stunts that it makes you forget it’s two hours long. Thank goodness. I almost included “story” in the list, but really, do we care? It’s convoluted, there are a ton of hitmen, all aimed at each other, there’s the ultimate baddie, or “Mr. Death” as Brad Pitt’s character, code name “Ladybug,” politely calls him. There’s family drama, a code of thieves, and dead wives of gangsters who never seem to take it into consideration that perhaps their nontraditional jobs are to blame.
Pitt plays “Ladybug,” a semi-reformed crook who only does non-killing jobs now (he hates guns), who is seeing a therapist, and who constantly quotes zen-ish platitudes. Yes, there is enough material there to last an entire movie, or even a series, and it’s 100% enjoyable.
“You see,” Ladybug says as he sits across from a killer, holding only a pretend invisible gun, “There’s a wall between us. But it’s an illusion. There’s really a window there—a window of opportunity.” Or is it a door? He forgets. I’ve always loved Pitt best in comedic roles, and this is no exception. I never tire of him telling everyone they need to “process” their emotions, and trying to wiggle out of a huge mess by any non-violent means possible, meanwhile, of course being a bada$$.
Everybody is worried about their luck, and fate. Ladybug is convinced he has bad luck.
His handler, who talks in his earpiece most of the time, thinks it’s all in the way you see it. Could be your bad luck is actually good luck, or that you’re just too prone to see the negative and not notice that you just got your life saved by some seemingly random incident. The Japanese master gangster/samurai in the film, “The Elder,” many of the characters don’t have actual names, Mortal Kombat’s own Hiroyuki Sanada, tells Ladybug that it’s all fate. Fate will provide. Just sit back. It’s all coming full circle. (I actually teared up at this part, I’m not sure why; maybe I related so much to Ladybug’s frustration and the balm provided by The Elder.)
Which points to the fact that these are all bad guys, but we love them anyway. Yes, the violence, the lifestyle of a gangster, is glamorized, and it’s an incredible amount of fun.
It’s like all the good action movies we’ve had over the years, starting with “Pulp Fiction,” adding a dose of “Deadpool,” maybe something starring the Rock and Kevin Hart, and we’ve got this fantastic conglomeration of what’s just right for us right now.
You will like almost everyone by the end, or at least have some sympathy for each of them—I mean one guy bases his life on “Thomas the Tank Engine,” how is that not loveable?—even as they commit unspeakable atrocities.
(BTW I waited the entire movie on tenterhooks to see Sanada fight and boy, did it deliver.)
There’s a code of thieves in “Bullet Train” where criminals band together, a pecking order, a ‘who is the worst’ of them, and who you can maybe team up with in order to get out alive. I loved the diversity of the film. You’ve got Japanese gangsters, Russian gangsters, American gangsters (or so I assume that’s Ladybug’s origination), Mexican gangsters, and British gangsters. You’ve got a huge variety of “types”—the smoothies in the so-retro-it’s-contemporary suits, the perfectly made up “innocent girl,” and the bearded “homeless” aesthetic sported by Pitt and Andrew Koji’s character, “The Father.”
It’s all the different sorts of people we find in real life (I mean, if they weren’t in the Triad or had nicknames like “The Wolf”), but on steroids.
P.S. Koji is wonderful in this movie. He’s all gruff and embattled and every time he’s in a scene, he pulls you right into his scruffy, blood-spattered, messed up hair-covered face. Even when you know what’s up with his character, you’re still like, WTH is up with this dude? LOL.
The action, editing, and choreography are on point, and inseparable from an intensely absorbing soundtrack. Music and slow-mo’s accompany all the fight scenes, and you want it that way. I asked myself towards the end, what would these fight scenes be like without the music? Let’s just say the movie would have still been great, but you would have felt that two hours.
Oh and just to clarify, they do try to explain away the fact that all this mayhem takes place on the train and NO ONE notices or says a word. They tell us that “Mr. Death” (it’s actually “White Death,” you know like “White Russian,” white and Russian, the drink, whatever) bought up all the seats so that he could orchestrate this reunion of bad guys, all for his own revenge—because it’s okay if he kills hundreds of people, but kill his wife and the world stops, right?
So…there are some holes. That bit about the seats seemed like an afterthought, like, oh maybe people will notice that this is a bit odd. It didn’t come until well into the film, and there were, in fact, passengers on the train—including a hilarious cameo by Channing Tatum—as well as three totally unrealistically unobservant staff. And there’s one more gangster (another cameo I won’t reveal) who is sort of MIA, and maybe should have gotten one more appearance on screen.
Without giving anything away, I can tell you that at the end, there’s a great scene where Ladybug’s handler’s car gets crushed, but they come out of it alive. Ladybug, now fully on board with the whole fate thing—no, you can’t control it but you can trust it—says to the handler mourning her flattened car, “How do we know that’s a bad thing?” Words to live by.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.