‘Bullet Train’ stars Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada deserve better

I was looking for Asian faces in everything I’ve seen. I remember the ones that mattered, the ones that didn’t make me emasculated or embarrassed.

There was Harold in Harold and KumarHiro in HeroTrini and Adam in Power Rangersand Liu Kang in mortal combat. The way Princess Kitana looked into Liu’s eyes, not saying a word but still saying volumes, is seared into my brain. For better or for worse, it shaped the way I thought true love was meant to emerge, like stolen glances at an ancient martial arts tournament.

In another life, I would have felt the same way about High-speed train. With a diverse cast of English-speaking actors, including Hiroyuki Sanada and British-Japanese actor Andrew Koji sharing the screen with Brad Pitt, High-speed train would have been what Peak hour is now: carefree offensive, fun and, above all, proof that Asian men can be cool.

But I don’t look High-speed train when I was nine years old, when I watched Chris Tucker in Rush hour 2 hitting Jackie Chan in a fight because “you all look alike”. I am 30 years old. And High-speed train doesn’t date back to the late ’90s or early ’00s, when notions of who becomes a Hollywood star and who doesn’t have always been proven by who you see on screen.

High-speed train is far from the most offensive movie I’ve ever seen – if anything, it’s too tame – but it looks worn and tired. In March, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 won at the US box office against The Batman. So why High-speed train do you think anime is nothing but cat mascots?

But what dates the new film the most is how much it underplays and showcases its two biggest Asian stars.

Koji, who opens the film as a troubled father who commits a crime to protect his hospitalized son, is hardly featured in either of the High-speed trains two trailers. Hiroyuki Sanada also has almost no marketing presence, getting a line in a trailer. Their absence is not subtle.

Unless you’ve seen the individual character posters, you’re unlikely to think High-speed train features any Asian talent. Hollywood isn’t supposed to cast Asian roles because they’re not stars, but the truth is they’re not stars because Hollywood won’t cast Asian roles. How can audiences be enthusiastic about buying tickets to see Asian actors when their existence in a movie is barely acknowledged?

Trailers seem to matter less these days than they used to. Even Marvel is revealing them closer to the release of the movies than before. But promotion and packaging still dictate who matters in Hollywood. It’s not like Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada aren’t worth announcing. They are both requested. Sanada, who began his career in Japan, has appeared in everything from The glutton at Avengers: Endgame at Westworld. It should appear in Wick jeans 4 and a new FX adaptation of Shogun.

Koji, whose stardom is rising, is currently the face of HBO Max’s Warrior. He co-starred with Henry Golding in Snake Eyes: GI Joe Originswhile his next two films, Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes and A boy kills the world, will see Koji working with John Malkovich and Bill Skarsgård. This is not a resume to be dismissed.

Although he speaks with another strained accent, Andrew Koji shines as one of two Japanese-born leaders in High-speed train. But who knew he would be so important to the film?Sony Pictures

In another life, I would have watched Koji and Sanada in High-speed train with respect and affection. No, I’m not yakuza. Nor am I a Shang Tsung fighting warrior, nor a time traveler, nor a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger (despite my childhood wishes). I am, however, a guy from New Jersey who is looking for cheeseburgers after smoking a doob, so maybe Harold and Kumar go to the white castle is the most authentic portrayal I could ever ask for. But that’s the beauty of movies: we’re allowed to see ourselves as more than we are.

High-speed train could have cemented Sanada and Koji as must-have talents. After this weekend, it is still possible; High-speed train is on track to earn a box office without Marvel. But how many ticket holders get into High-speed train knowing that Koji and Sanada are in it, not to mention who they are except “that guy in End of Game”?

Despite my problems with High-speed train, I felt indescribable relief when I realized that its token Asian stars aren’t relegated to small roles. They are real characters whose actions and livelihoods are important to the unfolding action. I would just like to know.

High-speed train now playing in theaters.

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