Movie Review – Bullet Train


Bullet Train is a wicked roller coaster ride. One with an explosive, indulgently nonsensical finale.

Bullet Train Review: 6 thumbs-up and 2 thumbs-down
Snappy Movie Review | Bullet Train

Bullet Train Synopsis

Seven hitmen and hitwomen converge on a Japanese bullet train service for missions that don’t completely make sense. As the service hurtles towards Kyoto, the battle royale commences and before long, the motley group realizes there is a larger, sinister plot at play. Just what is the story interlinking all these ultraviolent individuals?

Snappy Review

Other than the story being too overcrowded at parts, and the occasional indecision over comedy or philosophy, I find very little to dislike about this zany adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 novel.

It’s stylish, over-the-top, and octane-fueled. The whole show strictly follows a battle royale, ensemble movie formula. In other words, conceptualized thru-and-thru to please and entertain.

Every character is also attractive in his or her own way. By this, I don’t just mean physically. Like any good dark comedy should, each character is associated with an intriguing backstory, irresistible style, or signature quirk.

There is, of course, Brad Pitt’s Ladybug too. Eccentric, whimsical, neurotic, and endearing, the reformed assassin positively oozes cool magnetism, even when he’s jetted by an automated bidet. Brad expectedly flaunts this charisma at every opportunity, to great effect.

It’s an absurdly entertaining watch, in short. Not a “bullet train,” Shinkansen ride but a Japanese roller coaster with an earthshaking finale. One that gets so unreal at the end, you begin to wonder whether it’s someone’s ultraviolent daydream.

The guilty pleasure of watching this wicked fantasy is, to me, irresistible.

Race Representation Complaints

Quite a number of blogs and online publications have accused Bullet Train of whitewashing, or in my opinion, “west-washing.” The core unhappiness here is that the main cast features only one fully Japanese actor (Hiroyuki Sanada). The source material, on the other hand, uses characters who are exclusively Japanese.

I have very mixed feelings on this subject. While I empathise with Asian actors struggling in the American arena, I feel discussions often end up too subjective and emotionally charged. Invariably opening one after another Pandora’s box too. For example:

  • Just how many Asian actors should there be for an adaptation not to be guilty of whitewashing?
  • If, say, 80 percent of the main cast is Asian, wouldn’t it then be weird that everyone is speaking English? Wouldn’t that be another complaint?
  • If the dialogue is in Japanese, would international (commercial) appeal be compromised? Some viewers dislike relying on subtitles.
  • Let’s say the main cast is entirely Asian. And somehow, it’s not weird that everyone is speaking English. Would there then be the issue of … how many of these Asians are Japanese? Fully Japanese? Fully Japanese for three generations? Remember what happened with Memoirs of a Geisha and Crazy Rich Asians?
  • Why not just produce a Japanese movie to begin with! To hell with an American adaptation!

The boxes go on and on, don’t they? And so as awful as it might sound, I am inclined to agree with the official defence. It’s not the race but the character type and the story that matter.

The Japanophile in me compels this statement. If you’re traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen, Mount Fuji appears before Nagoya, not after. In fact, the grand volcano reveals itself quite a while before Nagoya. It’s nowhere that near Kyoto. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s disgraceful that I fuss over this but not the race issue)

Watch the trailer here.

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