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Pitt said he channeled Chan when starring in David Leitch’s “Bullet Train,” an adaptation of the Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” by Kōtarō Isaka. Pitt plays an assassin who boards a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto with the mission to collect a briefcase onboard while fending for his life against other trained killers, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Bad Bunny, Joey King, and Zazie Beetz.
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“We always talk about Jackie Chan, how much we love Jackie Chan,” Pitt told Entertainment Tonight of filming the action-comedy, in theaters August 5. “He’s like our Charlie Chaplin, he’s just so underrated. And it’s so amazing the stuff that he’s pulled off. So to do something in that vein, with the comedy infused into the fights, I’ve never done that before!”
Director Leitch previously told Insider that since most of the action in the film takes place on a moving train, sequences were separated into condensed fights a la Chan’s filmography, with “lots of quick jabs and kicks.” A former stunt coordinator, Leitch doubled for Pitt in “Fight Club,” “The Mexican,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” before co-directing “John Wick” with fellow Inosanto Academy alum Chad Stahelski.
Leitch incorporated “Hong Kong action with an American style” learned from Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee’s training partner, at the Academy, in part pioneering a “gun-fu” style in the “John Wick” franchise. Leitch later directed Pitt in “Deadpool 2” when the Oscar winner had a cameo as comic book character Vanisher.
“When [Pitt] came on this, he seemed to respect me already as a director,” Leitch said. “Obviously we worked a little on ‘Deadpool 2.’ We fell into this great friend rapport that we had in the years we spent together. But I was just blown away by him embracing me as the director and leaning into my ideas.”
And Leitch’s Lee-infused background also has another parallel with Pitt’s past works: Pitt portrayed stunt double Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” where he bests a fictionalized Lee, played by Mike Moh. Pitt earned an Academy Award for the 2019 period piece. The controversial scene drew backlash from late martial arts master Lee’s family.
Pitt’s real-life stunts in “Bullet Train” proved to be breakout scenes for the otherwise C-rated feature, as IndieWire critic David Ehlrich wrote. Ehlrich wrote that the Leitch-helmed film may “seem like it might be modern Hollywood’s answer to Hong Kong-style action” but instead “has given way to a mixed bag of comic mayhem and a garish mess of explosive CGI setpieces” despite Pitt’s action chops.
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