Bullet Train is a 2022 American action comedy thriller film directed by David Leitch from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, and produced by Antoine Fuqua, who initially conceived the film. It is based on the 2010 novel Maria Beetle (titled Bullet Train in its UK and US edition) by Kōtarō Isaka. +more The film stars Brad Pitt as a begrudging assassin who must battle fellow killers while riding a fictionalized version of the Tokaido Shinkansen. In addition to Pitt, the film stars an ensemble cast which also includes Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, 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 on August 5, 2022, by Sony Pictures Releasing. +more The film was a box office success grossing $239 million worldwide on a production budget of around $90 million. The film received mixed reviews from critics.
In Tokyo, Yuichi Kimura seeks revenge after his son Wataru is pushed off a rooftop and is told to board a bullet train later in the night. Meanwhile, guided by his handler Maria, former assassin "Ladybug" is assigned to retrieve a briefcase from the same bullet train bound for Kyoto after the previous contract, Carver, calls in sick. +more Ladybug is initially wary, as his recent string of bad luck during his jobs resulted in accidental deaths. Also on the train is a young woman codenamed the "Prince", who attacked Wataru, and two English assassin brothers called "Lemon" and "Tangerine", who are assigned to escort both the briefcase and the son of a Russian-born Yakuza boss known as the "White Death", who hired them due to their roles in a job in Bolivia.
Ladybug steals the briefcase from Lemon and Tangerine, but is attacked by another assassin (this time from Mexico), the "Wolf", who blames Ladybug for fatally poisoning his entire wedding party, including his newlywed wife (whom Ladybug had actually saved). After a brief fight, the Wolf's knife throw rebounds off the briefcase and into his heart, leading to his death. +more Distraught, Ladybug stashes the briefcase away and arranges Wolf's corpse to look like a sleeping passenger. Meanwhile, the Prince reveals to Yuichi that she pushed Wataru off the roof to lure him to the train as part of an elaborate plan to assassinate the White Death, as well as the fact that she has a henchman holding Wataru hostage in the hospital, with orders to kill him should anything happen to her. While Lemon and Tangerine search for the missing briefcase, the White Death's son is poisoned and dies in the same manner as the Wolf's wedding party months prior.
Ladybug offers the briefcase to Lemon in return for getting off the train. Lemon suspects that Ladybug killed the White Death's son, which Ladybug falsely admits to due to Lemon only specifying that he knew Ladybug had killed "someone" (and Ladybug believing he meant the Wolf), leading to a fight in which Lemon is knocked unconscious, realising that Ladybug was innocent upon awakening. +more The Prince and Yuichi find the briefcase and booby-trap it with explosives to kill the White Death as well as Yuichi's rigged gun as a second precaution. Ladybug encounters Tangerine and kicks him off the train after another scuffle, but he manages to climb back aboard. A suspicious Lemon shoots and injures Yuichi, but collapses after drinking water spiked with a sleeping drug that Ladybug brought with him. The Prince shoots Lemon and stashes him and Yuichi in a bathroom. Ladybug encounters yet another assassin, the "Hornet", who poisoned the White Death's son and Wolf's wedding party with modified boomslang venom. After a struggle during which they are both exposed to the venom, Ladybug steals her antivenom to save himself, leaving her to die.
Tangerine runs into the Prince and realizes that she shot Lemon, but Ladybug attacks before he can shoot her, accidentally killing Tangerine with his gun. Believing the Prince to be innocent, Ladybug agrees to protect her, despite Tangerine's dying pleas. +more Yuichi's father, the "Elder", boards the train and sees that the Prince is lying after recognizing the sound of her voice, and informs her that Wataru is safe (an undercover bodyguard had killed the Prince's operative). After she flees, the Elder tells Ladybug he is seeking revenge against the White Death, who killed his wife while taking over his Yakuza clan and that fate has brought them all together to this end. They discover that Yuichi and Lemon (who had a bulletproof vest on) are still alive, albeit injured, and the four work together to face the White Death. At Kyoto, Ladybug gives the briefcase to the White Death. The Prince, revealed to be the White Death's estranged daughter, tries to goad him into shooting her with Yuichi's rigged gun, but she fails.
The White Death explains that every assassin on the train, as well as his son, was responsible in some way for the death of his wife (with the exception of the Wolf, the Prince, and Ladybug; the latter was hired to replace Carver, who had killed the White Death's wife) and that he hired them all hoping they would kill each other. The White Death's henchmen open the booby-trapped briefcase, which explodes, knocking Ladybug and the White Death back onto the train. +more The White Death's remaining henchmen board and battle the assassins, with the Elder dueling the White Death in a sword fight. Their fight causes the train to hurtle out of control and crash into downtown Kyoto. Emerging from the wreck with the Elder's katana stuck in his chest, the White Death tries to kill Ladybug but is blown up by the rigged gun. The Prince threatens Ladybug, Yuichi, and the Elder with a machine gun, proclaiming herself to be the new White Death, but is suddenly struck and killed by a passing fruit truck hauling tangerines-later revealed to have been driven by Lemon, avenging Tangerine's death in the process. Maria arrives to retrieve Ladybug, who celebrates finally getting off the bullet train as Japanese authorities arrive trying to clean up the incredible damage in downtown Kyōto the assassins' exploits caused.
Additionally, Pasha D. +more Lychnikoff portrays Alexei Ilyin, a subordinate of The White Death and the handler of Lemon and Tangerine, while director David Leitch makes a cameo appearance as Jeff Zufelt, the 17th person accidentally killed earlier by Lemon and Tangerine. Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds also appear in uncredited cameo roles, respectively as a train passenger who is paid by Ladybug to pose as himself, and Carver, a renowned professional assassin whose job is being filled in by Ladybug.
Bullet Train had been initially developed by Antoine Fuqua-who co-produced the film-through his Fuqua Films banner. 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.
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, with Brad Pitt being cast in the film the following month. Variety reported that Pitt was paid $20 million. +more Joey King subsequently entered negotiations for a supporting role, while in September, Andrew Koji was added, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry joining in October. In November 2020, Zazie Beetz, Masi Oka, Michael Shannon, Logan Lerman, and Hiroyuki Sanada joined the cast, with Leitch revealing in December that Karen Fukuhara had also joined, and that Jonathan Sela would serve as cinematographer. That same month, Bad Bunny (credited as his real name, Benito A Martínez Ocasio) was also added to the cast, 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).
Production for Bullet Train began in October 2020 in Los Angeles, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming started on November 16, 2020, and wrapped in March 2021. +more The producers constructed three 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. Stunt coordinator Greg Rementer said Pitt performed 95 percent of his own stunts in the film.
Many of the deaths portrayed in the film are the result of the ingestion or injection of boomslang venom, which is represented as a fast-acting toxin that causes violent and bloody effects within 30 seconds of introduction into the bloodstream. However, in reality, the venom of the boomslang is known for its unusually slow action, and symptoms may not manifest for many hours following a bite. +more A famous case of boomslang envenomation involved herpetologist Karl Patterson Schmidt, who was accidentally bitten by a boomslang at his lab in 1957. Schmidt did not experience serious symptoms until the following day, when he collapsed and died at his home.
Bullet Train was originally set to be released on April 8, 2022, before being delayed to July 15, 2022, again to July 29, and then to August 5. Its world premiere occurred at the Grand Rex in Paris, France on July 18, 2022.
The film was released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on October 18, 2022, with the digital version released on September 27, 2022.
, Bullet Train has grossed $103.3 million in the United States and Canada, and $135.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $239.2 million.
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. The film made $12. +more6 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. The film made $13. 4 million in its sophomore weekend, remaining in first. The film made $8 million in its third weekend, falling to third.
On Rotten Tomatoes, 53% of 324 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5. 6/10. +more The website's critics consensus reads, "Bullet Trains colorful cast and high-speed action are almost enough to keep things going after the story runs out of track. " Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 49 out of 100, based on 61 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews. " 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.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film three and a half out of four stars, calling it "wildly entertaining" and praised the performances, "the creative and blood-spattered action sequences" and most of all the writing. 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. +more".
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. +more 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).
King appeared in the film despite having 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. +more" 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?".
When asked about the casting, 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. " 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". +more 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. Jana Monji of AsAm News highlighted the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Asians in the film and responded to Olkewicz's comment, "That sounds like White privilege providing an excuse for exclusion. ".
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. Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, criticized Isaka's statement, "Aren't ALL characters in a fictitious novel 'not real people'?. +moreWhat 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 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, despite half the cast being black, perceive it as more whitewashing. ".