"All in all, Bullet Train has the tendency to drag, but it's still fun and worth giving props to."
- Might Peking Man
Bullet Train (1975)
AKA: Bullet Train; Shinkansen Daibakuha; Shin Kan Sen
Director: Junya Sato
Writer: Ryunosuke Ono, Junya Sato
Cast: Ken Takakura, Sonny Chiba (Shin'ichi Chiba), Kei Yamamoto, Eiji Go (Eiji Goh), Akira Oda, Raita Ryu, Masayo Utsunomiya, Yumi Takigawa, Etsuko Shihomi, Takashi Shimura, Fumio Watanabe, Mizuho Suzuki, Ken Utsui, Tetsuro Tamba
Running Time: 115 min.
Plot: Hikari 109, a Japanese high-speed train--or "bullet train"--has a bomb attached to it that is set to detonate if the train slows to less than 80km/hr.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
SERGIO MARTORELLI'S REVIEW: It's official: american action films sucks mammoth balls, even the ones directed by HK masters like John Woo and Tsui Hark. And do you wanna know why? I'll tell ya. It's because they're not about action anymore. They're all about special effects and boosted egos. They're about multi-digit budgets that look very impressive 'til we find out that a gem like Shiri was made for under $ 4 million. They're about posters with huge pics of Well-Paid Star's noggin with his name in bold letters on top, as if every actioner is now called "CRUISE" or something of the sort. They're about Well-Paid Star braggin' on Letterman about how he did his own stunts - or, to be more precise, how he valiantly posed in front of a bluescreen hung by wires that would be digitally removed in post. They're about Well-Paid Star saving the world single-handedly, a formula already tired back when Sean Connery was still dancing with leprechauns. They're about how Well-Paid Star is considering directing-writing-producing the next eleven sequels. Well, Mr. Well-Paid Star. you think you're da shit, eh? Then go jump from a building like Jackie Chan did on "Rumble In the Bronx", and maybe. I said MAYBE. you can earn my respect. Deal?
That brings us to this exciting japanese production from the 70's, that served as the basis of "Speed". Wait, I said basis? Ha! This one has a train instead of a bus, no Keanu and no Sandra. But apart from that, it's exactly the same story. One of the last lines from "The Bullet Train" is "Kuramochi, there's always somebody who will try this again"! Man, those japanese must have ESP powers beyond of the mere mortal men! If you saw "Speed" you kinda saw "The Bullet Train". A terrorist mob, led by likeable villain Tetsuo (Takakura Ken), plants a bomb in the bowels of a shinkansen (that's "bullet train" for you non-japanese speaking folks). If the train speed drops below 80 km/h, it will go kablooey and kill 1,500 commuters. Whoa. In "Speed", the greatest danger was snuffing Cameron from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". But now comes the biggest difference: "The Bullet Train" is not flashy at all, but is a far better film. Instead of falling on the cliché of the "sole hero achieving what the entire police force was too incompetent to do", director Junya Sato made almost everybody a hero in this one - including some passerbys who end up helping to catch one of the terrorists.
Crash Cinema put this DVD in its Sonny Chiba Collection, but Chiba isn't the star at all. Even so, he does indeed saves lotsa asses doing what his character is supposed to: conducting a train. And not alone. Aiding him are the men in the control room, headed by Kuramochi (Utsui Ken), monitoring the trains that go back and forth and radio-ing precise orders to avoid accidents. Yeah, I can hear you go "yawn". A bomb on a bus sounds more exciting cause they may run out of fuel or Sandra Bullock's character, A DROP-OUT FROM THE DRIVING SCHOOL, can screw things up stepping on the wrong pedal. FYI, japanese shinkansen are controlled by computers that will automatically shut down the train if something weird is happening - like, if said train is going too fast and failing to stop on the stations. Making a quick left turn is easy even for a DROP-OUT FROM THE DRIVING SCHOOL, but how do you trick a computer, eh? What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?
The action isn't limited to the insides of the train. Meanwhile, the police negotiates with the terrorists while the clock ticks, as nobody knows for sure where the bomb is or how to defuse it. I don't know if you're aware of this little piece of trivia, but a train is slighty longer than a bus. The way the investigators find out is more complicated and clever than removing a piece of the floor and looking under the vehicle. Oh, one more thing: buses can run around in circles, but train lines end. So there. Case in point: this is a hell of an exciting flick that MUST be watched by any self-respecting action afficionado. "But how's the DVD quality, o Great Poombah?" you ask me so very politely. Well. it's acceptable at best, with nice contrast but faded colours. You wouldn't want to use this one to test your schmancy fancy Home Theater set-up. But then again, if the only thing you need is an anamorphically-enhaced image with DTS-EX sound so you can show off your widescreen TV and listen to choppers flying all over your room, then this kind of movie is not for you. Where you're heading, you don't need brains.
SERGIO MARTORELLI'S RATING: 7/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: Crash Cinema brings this forgotten, but now appreciated, gem back from the grave. Complete in a washed-out, but sharp, letterbox (2.35:1) format which makes you feel like you're in the world's most retroactive movie theater. In other words, the washy-flawed LBX print only adds to the visual treat. Get your bogus-buttered popcorn ready and be prepared to recite some wacky dubbing while your ass is on the edge of your seat - well, ignore the edge of your seat part, unless your five years old and never watched "Speed".
The problem: A group of criminals plant a bomb on a moving train, endangering the lives of thousands of people - if the train's speed drops below 80 kilometers, the bomb will explode. The solution: Handover $5 million (US) to the criminals and upon receiving the money, directions will be given on how to disarm the bomb.
Sound easy? Well, yes, but it's not. This is a movie, and in a movie, nothing never goes as planned. Without giving too much away, "Bullet Train" digs in and around the situation and instead of getting right to the point, we are smothered with irony after irony. Cat and mouse chases that go awry, incompetent police officials that ruin their leads, and bad guys that just aren't bad enough. Let's not forget all the people that are aboard the train: they pass out, they panic, and they want to get the hell off. Can't blame 'em for that.
"Bullet Train", another Asian film that inspired a successful Hollywood film - this time Jan De Bont's 1994 blockbuster "Speed". Made in 1975 as a "disaster" flick, it stars Ken Takakura, who you may recognize from 1989's "Black Rain" and 1975's "The Yakuza". Also stars Sonny Chiba ("Street Fighter") in an extended cameo role; but don't be expecting him to be kicking ass with fucked up facial-expressions, because in this one, he's nothing but a calm train operator.
All in all, "Bullet Train" has the tendency to drag, but it's still fun and worth giving props to. For the time, it was probably a love or hate film that went over people's heads because of the unbelievable, and sometimes, over-technical subject matter. To put it quite simple, I liked it...worth a watch, and for about $12.00, it's also worth a spot in your collection.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 7/10