In Bullet Train, Ladybug is an unlucky assassin who is determined to do his job peacefully after one too many gigs have gone off the rails. Fate, however, may have other plans, as Ladybug’s latest mission puts him on the world’s fastest train with lethal adversaries from around the globe, all with connected yet conflicting objectives.
Book v. Film
My Dream Recast
What more can elevate a movie? It’s true that the book gives very few physical descriptions of the characters. And Isaka explained in a New York Times article that he wouldn’t necessarily want an American film to attempt to portray Japanese identity and culture. But I think it would have been nice to see a large Asian American cast. I think there is a huge group of Asian American actors that would have been able to portray an Americanized version of Isaka’s Bullet Train. So, here’s who I would cast:
Brad Pitt plays the lead, Nanao, also known as the Lady Bug in the business. Nanao is witty, quick and altogether unlucky. Pitt’s Nanao is a seasoned criminal and newly unretired, while Isaka’s Nanao is young and worn out by his serious unlucky streak. Even though Pitt’s portrayal feels accurate, fun and insanely entertaining to watch, the novelized Nanao’s youth is rather important, as he relies on his looks to blend into certain situations. Steven Yeun, recently seen in Jordan Peele’s Nope, would easily excel in this starring role. Steven Yeun is younger than Brad Pitt so he could play a much more accurate Nanao.
Sandra Bullock was cast to play the voice of reason, Maria. Throughout most of the film and novel, Maria is just an ambient voice working with Nanao. Sandra’s performance is not exceptional, and her eventual appearance in the film is neither necessary nor shocking. Sandra’s portrayal of Maria could have easily been played by someone else. Isaka’s Maria, however, is quick-witted when she plays off Nanao’s quirky behaviors, and she’s quite firm when it comes to the job. Lucy Liu, a rising star from the same time as Sandra, has no problem mixing dramatics with comedy, which is exactly what Maria needed to be more accurately portrayed. I’d just hope they wouldn’t give Lucy the same bad haircut that poor Sandra had to wear.
The Prince is played by Joey King, a mysteriously elusive character with all that happens on the bullet train. While Joey King’s performance in Bullet Train is excellent, her character is very different than the novel’s version of The Prince. In the novel, The Prince is extremely young, with a round and feminine face, which is how he easily deceives criminals. He also seems far more sinister, solely because he seemingly has nothing to gain from being involved. If we want to go with a more accurate casting, Jayden Zhang (best known for playing young Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi) would be a perfect age. But since I enjoyed Joey King’s portrayal as an older Prince, I believe Ian Alexander would be a perfect aged-up version. Ian is known for their roles in The OA and Star Trek: Discovery and could play an unassuming role, easily twisting on and off emotional depths.
Zazie Beetz plays the mysterious Hornet, hunting in the shadows and playing a fun part in the train’s chaos. Zazie’s appearance on the bullet train was minimal, yet she was electrifying whenever she was on screen. Her character seems very close to Isaka’s Hornet, with the only major difference being that The Hornet wasn’t a single person, and their motives for being on the train were slightly different. Regardless, the movie might have minimized The Hornet’s appearances and overall actions, but Zazie Beetz carried the deadly assassin through quite well. The Hornet isn’t a character that others can identify, which lends to the idea that they could certainly be anyone. Simone Ashley, a rising star known for her roles on Netflix originals like Bridgerton, could hide in plain sight and work in the shadows.
Known together as The Fruits, Aaron Taylor Johnson plays Tangerine, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Lemon. A hilarious duo, both Aaron and Brian work amazingly together to quite accurately portray the criminal “brothers” and never fail to keep the movie entertaining. In Isaka’s novel, Tangerine and Lemon are dueling personalities that look so similar they are often confused as twins. I enjoyed the contrast that Aaron and Brian’s Tangerine and Lemon brought, as it played on the idea that they clearly are not related, regardless of what everyone assumes. However, I would have loved to see more confused interactions as others try to pick apart who is who.
Isaka gives very few descriptions of The Fruits, just that they are very similar, tall, and lanky. For this recasting, I think Tangerine should be played by Rinko Kikuchi (best known for her role in Pacific Rim), and Lemon should be played by Karen Fukuhara (best known for her role in The Boys). These two could have been an amazing portrayal of The Fruits, since both have previous film experience with hand-to-hand combat and a wide emotional range. Interestingly, Karen Fukuhara already plays a role in the 2022 Bullet Train as a concession cart girl, but I think she’s deserving of a larger role. If you wanted to stay closer to the accuracy of the novel, Marvel actors Ma Dong-seok and Benedict Wong could play a grittier version of The Fruits.
Michael Shannon plays the devious leader Minegishi, known as the White Death only in the film. Minegishi’s character, in the film and novel, mostly serves as a name to illicit fear. While Michael Shannon’s portrayal is grittier and far more interesting, he does not add anything essential to the role. Shannon’s Minegishi is very different than Isaka’s Minegishi. Their motives differ dramatically, and I almost prefer the film Minegishi because of this. Although his role feels minor, I believe Ken Watanabe, known for his role in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, would excel at playing Minegishi. Watanabe is capable of a similar stern, menacing look, and since not much is known about Minegishi’s appearance, the character’s projected aura is the most important element.
In the film, Yoshio “Little” Minegishi, the reckless son of notorious gangster Minegishi, is played by Logan Lerman. Logan’s performance, though short-lived, is quite funny, although lacking as an individual performance. I believe a lot of the praise for Logan’s performance comes from the fact that he is already an established, beloved actor. Little Minegishi, in both the film and novel, tends to be more of a prop than an actual contributing personality. Recasting Little Minegishi depends on casting someone young who can capture the essence of a reckless partier. Charles Melton, known for his role in Riverdale, fits that physical typecast, as well as his previous experience playing a rebellious teenager, and I think he’d be quite entertaining as Little Minegishi.
The only characters I would not change are Andrew Koji, who played Yuichi Kimura, and Hiroyuki Sanada, who played Kimura’s father. These actors exceeded all of my expectations with their performances. While there were certainly differences between the novel and film characters, I enjoyed the film’s choices. Kimura’s consequences in the novel almost feel deserved, while I found myself more sympathetic towards the film Kimura. Regardless, Andrew excellently portrays Kimura’s ill-tempered mannerisms, and he deserves a lot of praise for his skills. Kimura’s father, known as the Elder or Shigeru, has a far more action-favored role in the film. The Elder in the novel is more of a side character whose backstory is never truly explored. In contrast, the film’s Elder takes center stage while helping his son. Hiroyuki’s performance was truly well-done, and I would have even loved to see more of him. I enjoy their casting and would never dream of changing their actors!
In the novel, the Wolf is one of those characters that is extremely hated, the lowest criminal of them all. Thankfully, Bad Bunny’s Wolf is seriously more likable—in as much as one can like a criminal. First-time actor Bad Bunny plays the Wolf so well that I was genuinely sad to see how short his time was on the train. In case you’re not familiar, Bad Bunny is a grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican rapper and singer.
With a newer character background and well-changed physical characteristics, I think Dev Patel—known in his youth for his performance in Slumdog Millionaire—would make for an amazing Wolf. Completely ignoring the reach for Isaka accuracy, Dev one hundred percent would be able to give the same gritty vibe that Bad Bunny gave. I have no doubt that Dev would be just as entertaining.