Monday, June 18, 2012

Train Week: The Bullet Train (1975)

I reality I hate trains. I just see them as a one long coffin of boredom, and it takes forever to get somewhere. Not to mention the smell, the screaming bastard-kids and the over-priced restaurant. Have you noticed that the first hour often is quiet nice and cozy, but then the smell and dirt creeps up on you and when you finally arrive you're a germ-bomb of sweat, dirty and the stench of seats that reeks of twenty years of farting!  The only nice train I've been on is one between Shanghai and Beijing. Extremely clean and nice people. We shared compartment with a gentleman from the anti-piracy bureau there. He had a collection of 3000 bootlegs himself at home. But all my complains is nothing compared to what the passengers and crew have to experience on... The Bullet Train!

Sonny China, in a glorified cameo, is the captain of the super-fast bullet train. What he don't know is that a group of three men have planted a bomb underneath the train and it will explode if they gets under a certain speed! Now it's up to the control central and the police to figure out where the bomb is, where the terrorists are and save the day. But it's not that easy, of course, and soon there's just one person who knows how to disarm the bomb and he's not gonna turn himself in!

That's the basic storyline of The Bullet Train, but it has a lot more that makes it in may ways superior to American counterparts. First and most important, the characters has more layers than just being heroes and bad guys. After a while you actually feel for the main bomber (the excellent Ken Takakura), you can understand his pain and why he's doing it. This very important because then you have something else to care about and the scenes when the police is searching for him gets even more interesting and filled with tension because you're on his side during those scenes. I kinda liked him actually, and it's very far from the over-the-top scene-chewing "acting" by Dennis Hopper in the similar movie Speed (I need to see that one again actually).

Like many Japanese movies the filmmakers (this movie is produced by Toei) often used miniatures to boost the vision of the movie and Bullet Train is no except. It took me a while to realize that many of the train shots is miniatures! Sure, after a while you notice them quite clearly but they still looks great. Even if this is a disaster movie that actually lacks traditional disasters there's three sequences with exploding trains and those scenes looks awesome. There's some non-train action spliced in-between the drama also but it's the grittier, seventies style. Handheld camera, some blood and explosions.

The Bullet Train has a seriousness that you could find in slightly silly movies during the seventies and this makes it so much better. I have no time in watching movies that jokes away a good story, and The Bullet Train actually is really good with a lot of tension and thrills. There's a sequence when they need to transfer something from one speeding train to another that works so well! But it mainly lives because of the characters and the humanity in them. The DVD released by VCI is the shorter, dubbed, international version. It still works very fine and after a while you get used to the corny English voices. The original version seems to be released in the UK on DVD so I might have to get that one sooner or later.

Watch it, for the tension and for the wonderful actors!


Andreas Bengtsson said...

I purchased Optimum asias brilliant Sonny Chiba collections and this was part of one of them together with Golgo 13 and G.I Samurai,I think. It was the full 2 ½ hours cut. Highly recommended. Surprisingly good picture and sound quality.

Anonymous said...

I have the original version(bought it in U.K). I think its a great movie. About travelling by trains, always travel first class and you´ll be fine ;).

Anonymous said...

"Sonny China, in a glorified cameo"

Chiba, Ninja, Sonny Chiba.

"First and most important, the characters has more layers than just being heroes and bad guys."

Yeah.....I agree, there´s alot of character development here. Just like pyschological thriller instead of typical disaster movie we get the whole background, why the bombers are doing this.

"(the excellent Ken Takakura)"

Yeah....always liked him from The Yakuza (1974). Too bad I haven´t seen that many films with him.

"and it's very far from the over-the-top scene-chewing "acting" by Dennis Hopper in the similar movie Speed"

Big budget hollywood spectacle.....I don´t think you should expect too much subtlety from those kind of productions.

As mentioned by others, buy the Optimum asias collection, you get the non dubbed version.


Exploding Helicopter said...

Great review, I'm looking forward to the rest of train week!