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The Untold Truth Of Bullet Train

(This article contains spoilers for the 2022 film "Bullet Train.")

The job is simple — hop aboard a bullet train departing Tokyo, procure a briefcase holding millions of dollars in cash, and get off at the next stop. Easy enough, right? You've probably seen enough movies to know that the answer is a definitive "no."

In "Bullet Train," Brad Pitt plays the hitman in question, whose codename is "Ladybug" and who isn't interested in prolonging this mission. That's too bad for poor Ladybug, though, because he'll soon become entangled in a macabre wild goose chase for the briefcase that will take the length of the train's route to Kyoto to figure out.

"Bullet Train" is directed by David Leitch and also features among its cast Sandra Bullock, Joey King, Bad Bunny, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji, Logan Lerman, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Zazie Beetz. The film is ambitious in terms of both its action sequences and narrative, weaving together multilayered characters against the sleek backdrop of a fast-moving train making its way across Japan in the middle of the night. So book your seat as we uncover the truth of "Bullet Train." Just watch out for poisonous snakes, ok?

Reading the script lifted Brad Pitt's spirits during the 2020 lockdown

2020 was a rough year for everyone, Brad Pitt included. During the press tour for "Bullet Train," Pitt shed light on the film's script being a source of optimism during an otherwise melancholy moment in history. "It was that point in the lockdown, I think after summer as we were approaching fall, it was four months or five months in. People were going stir crazy," Pitt recalled. "There was almost a feeling of depression, like a worldwide depression in the air or something. I read this script ... and I said, 'That's the salve we need right now. That's what I want to see.' So we were off and running, and we had to run pretty quick."

On paper, "Bullet Train" hardly sounds like an uplifting morale booster. It's violent, dark, and vengeful. At its center, though, is a throughline of wit and heart, thanks to David Leitch's direction which counterbalances the film's seemingly sinister surface.

As "Bullet Train" headed into production, the pandemic was still going strong. Brian Tyree Henry discussed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly the level of trust that was required among the cast and crew to follow COVID protocols and stay safe, even when they weren't on set. With vaccinations not yet widely distributed, any lapse of adherence leading to a COVID outbreak could not only cause production delays but jeopardize the safety of others.

The set emulated a real train ride

As an audience member, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which parts of a movie were shot on a physical set, what scenes were fabricated using computer-generated technology, and which were created using a blend of both. When watching "Bullet Train," the train ride seems real enough, but the crew can't have actually filmed the entire movie on a moving locomotive ... right?

The answer is, sort of. The crew assembled physical sets for each of the interior train compartments featured in the movie. These sets were then placed in front of huge LED screens that provided a view of Japan outside the train's windows (via Stream Wars). As impressive as this is by itself, another layer of authenticity took things to the next level. Considering how fast the train moves, filmmakers could have created makeshift animation emulating a ride through Japan to use as the LED screen's footage, and no one in the audience would have been any the wiser — or at the very least, viewers would understand the logic behind the decision. Instead, though, the "Bullet Train" crew went the extra mile — or rather, the extra 231 miles: the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto. What the audience sees out the window is actual footage from a real train ride between the two cities, which David Leitch directed remotely via WhatsApp, guiding the second-unit crew in what was the middle of the night in the United States (via Entertainment Weekly).

The director of Bullet Train has a unique connection to Brad Pitt

"Bullet Train" wasn't the first time that director David Leitch and actor Brad Pitt worked together. Pitt shared with BBC Radio that their first collaboration was in the 1999 film "Fight Club," for which Leitch was Pitt's stunt double. A glance at Leitch's filmography yields the discovery of other projects where Leitch continued to sub in for Pitt during dangerous or action-packed sequences, including "Spy Game," "Ocean's Eleven," "Troy," and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

As Leitch began directing feature films, his established rapport with Pitt led to the A-lister making a cameo in "Deadpool 2," a movie Leitch helmed. Pitt appears for a brief moment as the audience sees him get electrocuted following a skydive gone wrong. Incidentally, "Deadpool 2," a David Leitch movie starring Ryan Reynolds featuring a Brad Pitt cameo, would become the inverse of "Bullet Train," a David Leitch movie starring Brad Pitt featuring a Ryan Reynolds cameo. In "Bullet Train," Reynolds makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance as the surprise identity of Carver, a co-worker of Ladybug's.

Bad Bunny's casting informed the Wolf's character arc

Benito Martínez Ocasio, aka rapper Bad Bunny, plays the Wolf in "Bullet Train." For reasons unknown to him at the time, most of the Wolf's family, including his new wife, drop dead at his wedding reception. Hungry for revenge, the Wolf is on the hunt for his family's murderer, who he falsely believes is Ladybug.

Prior to Ocasio landing the job, the character had a slightly different backstory. "I originally saw the Wolf as a more grizzled, older guy. It was old love lost," director David Leitch told Entertainment Weekly. "Then I met Benito and the bells just went off. This is fun. This is fresh, first love that might be more tragic. We had a great conversation." With the Wolf's inciting incident being so recent, the character's intensity for his mission hasn't yet waned, leading to a fierce performance from Ocasio as the Wolf tracks down Ladybug on the train.

Two actors had a special symbol of their characters' relationship

Brain Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play two brothers codenamed Lemon and Tangerine. The briefcase everyone wants to get their hands on is initially in their possession when the train ride begins, and they're none too happy when it goes missing. As the film progresses, the audience learns more about these two very different characters' personalities and how they complement one another both as brothers and as professionals in their field. Lemon is in tune with his nostalgic side, having an affinity in particular for the children's show "Thomas & Friends." Tangerine, by contrast, is no fluff and all business.

As a symbol of their characters' goodwill and in homage to his fictional brother's name, Taylor-Johnson brought a lemon tree to the set of "Bullet Train" and placed it between his and Henry's trailers (via Entertainment Weekly). The actors made it their mission to keep the tree alive for the duration of the shoot, which they did, to pay tribute to the ebb and flow of their characters' brotherly relationship. The tree is currently in the possession of director David Leitch.

Thanks to Bullet Train, Sandra Bullock recruited Brad Pitt for another movie

"Bullet Train" features a number of fun cameo appearances, including Channing Tatum as a passenger aboard the train. Some audience members might clock that this effectively makes "Bullet Train" a reunion of sorts for the cast of 2022's "The Lost City," as Tatum, Sandra Bullock, and Brad Pitt are all featured in both films. With "The Lost City" having been released five months before "Bullet Train," it might seem like the latter is paying tribute to the former. The truth is actually less homage-related, more strategic, and chronologically reversed.

Despite "Bullet Train" debuting after "The Lost City," "Bullet Train" was actually filmed first. Bullock shared with Extra that hairdresser Janine Rath Thompson styled Pitt's head for "Bullet Train," and at the time, Bullock knew that Thompson was already booked to style her for her next project, "The Lost City." Wanting Pitt to be involved in "The Lost City," Bullock enlisted Thompson to convince him to join the cast as she prepared his hair on the set of "Bullet Train." Mission accomplished! The inclusion of Channing Tatum in both productions? Purely coincidental, it seems.

Bullet Train is based on a novel

Which was better: the movie or the book? Moviegoers have debated this question for decades, and have the opportunity to do so once more with "Bullet Train," though the fact that the film was a novel first may come as news to American audiences. According to the New York Times, Japanese author Kōtarō Isaka first published "Maria Beetle," upon which "Bullet Train" is based, in 2010, but the book was only recently translated to English. "Maria Beetle" exists as part of a trilogy, though "Bullet Train" focuses on just one installment.

Fandango's Naz Perez points out an interesting quote attributed to Isaka, who says that all of his characters, "are a bit strange, as if they're floating a few centimeters above reality." This vision certainly translates to the screen, where the cast of "Bullet Train" portrays an ensemble of quirky individuals grounded enough in reality to feel like real people, but are aloof enough to earn the reputation Isaka has given them.

We wanted the audience to really care about these sociopaths

"Bullet Train" is undeniably an action movie, but its cast and crew strived to make something more than a fluff piece with flashy fight sequences. They took care to develop multi-layered characters with motivations the audience could get behind, even if they were all pretty terrible people in some way. "We wanted the audience to really care about these sociopaths," Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Lemon, told Entertainment Weekly. "I know it sounds crazy, but we wanted you all to really care about them, to care about their relationship and that they stuck together."

Director David Leitch agrees. "You can go on a longer journey if you have that empathy. They're never gonna be redeemable, and that's fine," he said in the same interview. "The moral of the tale doesn't allow them to be, but you can go on a longer journey and have more fun and enjoy the ups and downs and get some of the feels that you would never have if you were just completely detached from them."

While each main character is an antihero in their own way, the audience finds itself taking sides and rooting for them, despite qualities that would translate as less than desirable in real life. With the cast and crew's approach to fleshing out characters as three-dimensional individuals rather than simply pawns in a fight scene, the audience satisfaction goes beyond visual enjoyment to be more fully invested in the story.

The flashbacks served as a specific creative purpose

The majority of "Bullet Train" takes place on a single night as a locomotive travels from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, there are a handful of flashbacks that momentarily transport the audience away from the train ride to provide context to some of the characters' personalities, histories, and motivations. While Lemon reminiscences about how many people he's killed, the audience sees a violent montage of each of his past murders. When the Wolf prepares to board the train to avenge his family, the audience sees the tragic wedding that preceded his current pursuit, during which most of his family was poisoned.

Employing flashbacks isn't just a nifty storytelling device, though. For director David Leitch, the flashbacks also serve as an antidote to cabin fever that the audience might experience if the entire movie were to take place exclusively on the train (via Stream Wars). "Living in the flashbacks was a choice that I really wanted. I felt like we needed to escape from the train," Leitch said. "You get in a train movie and it's two hours in a tube, no matter how cool we make the train cars ... It was something creatively that I held onto and fought for to make it a little bit more of a wild ride."

Filming one scene was a dream come true for Joey King

Michael Shannon appears toward the end of "Bullet Train" as White Death. The character is mentioned throughout the film and remains a mysterious offscreen figure until the climax of the story. White Death has various connections to many of the main characters — he's the boss of Lemon and Tangerine on their mission, and he's the father of the characters known as the Son and the Prince, the latter of whom is played by Joey King.

Being Michael Shannon's fictional daughter was a superfan moment for King. "I've considered Michael Shannon one of my heroes," King told Cosmopolitan UK. "They say 'never meet your heroes cause you'll be disappointed,' but man, I'm so glad I met him. I was not disappointed." After Shannon's scenes were complete, King was able to express her admiration of the prolific actor. "I was like, 'Listen, I don't want to be that guy, but you just mean so much to me' and he was so sweet. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had interacting with another actor."

Brad Pitt hopes the movie's commitment to its fight scenes honors Jackie Chan

Who is your favorite actor's favorite actor? Surely all artists draw inspiration from somewhere or someone, and even the most respected figures in various fields look to someone as a source of ingenuity.

As it turns out, Brad Pitt cites Jackie Chan as a major influence, and tried to do right by the longtime action movie star with his action-packed performance in "Bullet Train." While Pitt might look to different sources of inspiration depending on his specific role, "this one specifically was pointing toward more like a Jackie Chan, who we consider the all-time great, like our Buster Keaton of our time," Pitt told Fandango. Like Chan's films, the script of "Bullet Train," was "infused with this humor and it was rife with character. That's what made it really fun, something I hadn't done before. It made me laugh. I think it'll do that for others." So there you have it: If you've ever wondered who Brad Pitt, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, would get starstruck around, the answer might just be Jackie Chan.

One actor suffered a minor injury while filming

The intense nature of "Bullet Train" led to some actors experiencing small physical injuries while shooting action sequences. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Tangerine, shared with BBC Radio that he hurt his hand and his knee while filming a particularly tricky scene.

Joey King, who plays the Prince, elaborated on Taylor-Johnson's injury in detail to Cosmopolitan UK. "Aaron sliced his hand open during a stunt in a fight scene with Brad and didn't even see it, then saw it, and was like, 'I gotta go home.'" King recalled. It was a bit of a fluke that Taylor-Johnson got hurt, as King continued to say safety measures were in place to prevent injuries. "The entire surface in the room they were fighting in, everything was padded, but he managed to find the one spot that wasn't padded and just slipped on it and sliced his hand. ... It was so gnarly." Thankfully the incident wasn't severe, though it goes to show you can never be too careful in safety-checking a potentially hazardous workplace.