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Film Review: A large all-star cast delivers high-speed action in Bullet Train

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The words “bullet train” immediately call to mind images of a high-speed transport rapidly carrying passengers around Japan. For nearly 50 years, the Shinkansen (literally translated as “new main line”) has ferried both native Japanese and tourists without a single fatality or injury on board due to derailments or collisions.

As awesome a statistic as that is, however, the appeal of the “bullet train” name for any action movie aficionado has surprisingly not been tapped until now. Under director David Leitch and starring an all-star cast led by Brad Pitt, the film Bullet Train is a high adrenaline, fast-talking thrill ride that easily ranks among 2022’s best action movies.

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Former professional assassin Ladybug (Pitt) is tasked by his handler to board the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto as a last-minute replacement. Also on this particular train are fellow assassins Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his brother Lemon (Bryan Tyree Henry), as well as the deceptively innocent young lady known as The Prince (Joey King).

The brothers were hired by the head of the world’s largest crime syndicate, the Russian known as “White Death” (Michael Shannon) to recover his kidnapped son and the $10 million ransom for him. None of them are aware that The Prince hires another assassin to kill White Death’s son.

Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) is forced by The Prince to get on the train when the latter pushed his son off a building. Ladybug himself is supposed to recover the ransom but unwittingly comes into contact with The Wolf (Bad Bunny), who is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and their guests at his wedding.

Unbeknownst to all of them, a deadly boomslang, a snake with poisonous venom, is also on the train. As the stories of these different killers begin to intersect, this particular bullet train ride proves to be a lot more interesting than any of the passengers expected.

Director Leitch has already proven his prowess in directing big action films in the past like Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that the action sequences in Bullet Train are amazing. From the fights done in the restricted space that a train provides to the big explosions and the introduction of katanas, snake poison, and other weapons, the film delivers in spades.

The neon lights of Tokyo have recently been heavily featured in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins and the television series Tokyo Vice so it was a bit disappointing to learn that Bullet Train was actually filmed in Los Angeles. It’s understandable that the filmmakers had to do so, though, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, the audience is fully immersed in the train ride so it’s unlikely that any of them will know the difference.

What is perhaps the most surprising about this motion picture is the rapid-fire dialogue that the large cast of characters is given. With the wit and snappy banter we’ve usually seen in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez-helmed pictures, the attention of the viewer is kept on the screen even in between the large action sequences.

Given the earlier mentioned big names in the cast as well as the surprising cameos that pop up, it would be easy to be distracted from the intersecting storylines. However, the screenplay by Zak Olkewicz that adapts a novel by Kotaro Isaka is actually coherent and just when you think some things don’t add up, the plot lines are resolved by film’s end.

Pitt has always been comfortable in his own skin and often embraced roles where his good looks are dirtied up for the sake of the story and that’s definitely the case here. As an assassin going through an existential crisis and given a decidedly un-macho codename in “Ladybug,” Pitt isn’t afraid to be the butt of jokes, get beaten up, or even bit by a poisonous snake.

The pair of Taylor-Johnson and Henry provide a lot of the film’s comic relief as a mismatched pair of twin British assassins with funny codenames and weird quirks. It would not be a stretch to see the duo star in their own movie, although the ending of Bullet Train will likely not allow that to happen.

Aside from the quick-hitting dialogue, another surprise that Bullet Train provides is the performance of young Joey King. In a cast of huge names and industry veterans, King as the neglected, bitter, and manipulative misnamed Prince is not buried under the cast’s star power. Instead, she goes toe-to-toe with Pitt, Shannon, and the rest. All wrapped up in her pink schoolgirl outfit.

It would be so easy to dismiss Bullet Train as your run-on-the-mill action film but that would be a huge mistake. The dialogue, large cast, intersecting storylines, and of course, the action scenes, all come together to deliver an impressive motion picture that is best seen on the biggest screen you can watch it on.

Bullet Train opens in Philippine cinemas on August 10.

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