Breaking Down Bullet Train’s Negotiation and Communication Scenes


The Elder shaming his son Kimura

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • OK, so we see shaming and guilting here. The Elder is starting with the stereotype of what a father must be – responsible – and how he, in specific, wasn’t. This is the usual stereotype of the family man, but in specific, since he belonged to a criminal organisation, that feeling of being responsible and being the caretaker is even higher. And he’s saying that his son Kimura wasn’t reliable in protecting his own son;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Value identity contradictions (The Elder telling the son Kimura he was not reliable);


Ladybug conversation with his handler

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • So, the last-minute job can be considered an obstacle or test. That is, someone who accepts it at the last-minute is more compliant, and more qualified. It’s also a form of subjugation – unexpected rigidity;
    • We also see an identity contradiction here, in that Ladybug wants to believe he’s a bad luck charm, while his handler doesn’t believe it and is fighting him on it;
    • Also, small intent labeling by the handler. “Please tell me you didn’t order the sleeping powder”. And notice how Ladybug doesn’t give a first-person answer. He doesn’t say, “I didn’t”. Instead he just says, “nope”, and carries on, which is pretty much proof he did it;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Obstacles/testing (Last-minute job)
    • Rigidity (Unexpected, by Ladybug’s handler);


Tangerine steals the chips

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, a great example of distraction. In this case, physical. Tangerine uses the distraction that Kimura causes, crashing into the card, to steal some chips. Although this is not a persuasion situation, it would work as well – he could take that chance to ask the server for the chips as compensation himself, and it would have a higher chance of working;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Physiological priming (Tangerine using the distraction);


Tangerine and Lemon (and later White Death’s son) talking

  • Is It Realistic: Hmmm;
  • Description:
    • So, we see a good example of a metaphor here. He’s calling himself Tangerine as a handle because it’s sophisticated and adataptable. It’s a good call. I mean, within the fruit metaphor, I guess. And he’s calling his partner Lemon saying he’s sour, as an insult;
    • Also, the Thomas the Tank Engine metaphors, besides hilarious, are also effective. Who is the Diesel is a running joke of the movie, but it’s accurate. The Diesel is the trouble. And it’s used as a label to identify their enemies later on;
    • Obviously, all of these are for comedic value, but they’re actually very well used as comparisons and labels. Within the context of humor, they’re pretty well-written;
    • I also like, when they mention the “White Death”, Lemon says, “White Death, not exactly a fruit”, which is a way to separate him from them, as if he’s on a different level, or of a different nature. It’s a good way to establish a unique positioning;
    • Later, when White Death’s son says, “He doesn’t need a reason to kill you, he needs a reason not to”, it’s a great example of standard manipulation. Changing the default. And flipping too. He’s inverting the default, and inverting who has the responsibility to prove themselves;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Metaphors/comparisons (The fruit analogy);
    • Labeling manipulation (Who is “The Diesel”);
    • Positioning (The White Death, being on a different league from them);
    • Standard manipulation/flipping (When White Death’s son mentions he doesn’t need a reason to kill, he needs a reason not to);


Prince threatening Kimura

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • OK, so, again, a little bit flashy here, since it’s a movie and for dramatic purpose, but the part where she says, “If I don’t reply every 10 minutes, go in and kill – wait, what is his name?”, and asks Kimura for his son’s name, and then says back on the phone, “Yes, Wataru. Kill Wataru”, is to make him comply. It’s a type of initiative. Forcing Kimura to be involved in the threat itself;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Initiative/involvement (Forcing Kimura to state his son’s name);


Lemon and Tangerine talking after losing the case

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • We see Lemon using his Diesel analogy again for White Death, to attribute the meaning he’s definitely one of the bad guys;
    • We also see an identity contradiction here. Tangerine is saying White Death hired them because they are two of the best operators, while Lemon is saying he just hired two random people. Both have different ideas of their identity as hitmen;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Comparisons/metaphors (The Diesel, again);
    • Identity contradiction (Tangerine sees them as the best, Lemon sees them as two random people);


Tangerine and Lemon speaking (continued)

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • When Tangerine asks Lemon is he still has the vest, and he says, “No, they give you a false sense of security”, this is extremely realistic, and it’s permission manipulation. You get something that gives you permission to feel safe, and then you easily fall victim to that;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Permission manipulation (The vest giving you permission to feel safe – in a bad way);


Ladybug accidentally kills The Wolf

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • I like how Ladybug spins the situation here. He spins the death as being a lesson about anger, and once again reinforces his identity of bad luck. One could argue it’s not bad luck at all, because he escaped unscathed, and it was the other poor guy that got killed, but he’s trying to reinforce his identity. This is something we do everyday – ignore what happens and just keep confirming what we want to tell ourselves;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Spinning (Spinning the Wolf’s death as bad luck);
    • Identity/characteristics (Reinforcing his identity as someone with bad luck);


Tangerine and Lemon planning after White Death’s son killed

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • I love when Tangerine says, “Deal with the person”, and Lemon asks, “Do I talk to him or ‘talk to him’?”. He’s trying to get validation, permission to kill, for example, and Tangerine is just saying, “I don’t care, just get it done”;
    • It’s also interesting here whether any persuasion would take place. I mean, if Lemon does see Ladybug with the case and doesn’t kill him, how would he otherwise obtain the case? Threatening, pressure and intimidation? Possibly. Reciprocity? Nope. Either threats or threats made good on;
    • It’s also a failed attempt of implementation intention. Lemon is trying to ask what Tangerine would do, in a way, and he’s saying, “I don’t care, just deal with it”, as he has no patience;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Permission manipulation (Lemon asking for permission to deal with the person);
    • Implementation intention (Failed attempt by Lemon);


Ladybug with his handler

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • Once again identity contradictions. Ladybug insisting he has bad luck, his handler denying it;
    • We also have effort manipulation here. His handler saying, “Just get off at the next stop”, and Ladybug saying, “You make it sound so easy”. This is exactly what effort manipulation is, in a nutshell;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Identity contradictions (The whole, “I’m a bad luck charm”, “No you’re not” dynamic);
    • Effort manipulation (“Just get off at the next stop”);


Tangerine on the phone with White Death’s team

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably);
  • Description:
    • When he says, “We don’t need a babysitter, can I please go do my job now?”, it’s intent labeling. It’s a form of compliance. He wants the henchman to specifically state that yes, they can do their work without micromanaging. To say it “officially”;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Intent labeling (Tangerine asking the henchman to let him do his job);


Ladybug pulling a gun on Lemon

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably);
  • Description:
    • So, for comedic purposes, but two interesting techniques here. First, Lemon interrupts Ladybug when he’s threatening him to say it’s the quiet car. It’s both rigidity (obeying rules), the home advantage (Ladybug is coming to him, so he’s playing by his rules), and an interrupt (distraction – interrupting someone opens them up to make a mistake);
    • I also like how despite Ladybug being satirical, he does have a point. Even in criminal situations, where each person is fighting for their lives, there is always some sort of compromise that can be achieved. For example, them splitting the rewards, or working together to fight a bigger evil. As long as they have a common enemy, of course – once it’s eliminated, it’s each person to himself. Also, only works on reasonable people – White Death seems to be completely ruthless and a maniac, so not with him;
    • Also, his hilarious monologue about “Between us sits a wall” is, in reality, about empathy and bonding. He doesn’t know it, but he’s saying that if they can understand each other, they can negotiate. Tell me you know how to use empathy without telling me you know how to use empathy;
    • I love the spinning from both sides. Ladybug is saying everyone can win and not get killed, Lemon is saying that everyone can lose and get killed. Unfortunately, I’m with Lemon on this. If everyone was reasonable, Ladybug would be right. But White Death is a maniac, and there is a high probability that losing his son, even without the case, leads to him killing everyone. As we find out later, he would not get mad at his son being dead (no spoilers), so they could actually get away with just delivering the case. But point being, they didn’t know that, so according to White Death’s reputation at the time, their best bet would be to kill everyone and escape, as they’re dead for sure anyway. You can’t negotiate with an unreasonable maniac;
    • Then, we have some interesting trust dynamics here. So, none of them trust each other, and Lemon says, “We can’t do that deal anymore because you killed someone”, and Ladybug says, “Yes, and it was an accident”. Obviously they’re talking about different people. We see here a failed example of adverse transparency – Ladybug confessing he killed someone, although he didn’t need to – but, because Lemon calls his bluff on the gun, he doesn’t need to trust him, and decides to attack him instead;
    • Then we also have some fun labeling manipulation. Lemon calls Ladybug a Diesel before the fight, and he says, “I’m definitely not a Diesel”, and then after the fight Ladybug says to himself, “I’m not a Diesel, you’re a Diesel”;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Rigidity/home advantage (Ladybug is coming to the “quiet car”, so he has to obey the rules);
    • Interrupt (Lemon distracting Ladybug by interrupting him);
    • Empathy (What Ladybug is getting at by saying, “There is a wall between us, but there is a door”);
    • Reciprocity/spinning (Ladybug is saying they can all win, so work together, and Lemon is saying they can all die, so not worth it);
    • Adverse transparency (When Lemon asks Ladybug about killing someone and he confesses, although he didn’t need to);


Kimura trying to attack Prince in the bathroom

  • Is It Realistic: Hmmm;
  • Description:
    • So, here, we have Prince using the same threat as before. This time she goes into details, saying, “I wonder how they would kill him”, etc etc. Usual movie stuff. I guess if you were making a threat in real life, it could be persuasive. It’s a unique persuasion stack, also – threats and intimidation paired with details;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Pressure/intimidation (Prince threatening Kimura again);
    • Details and specifics (Prince going into details on how Kimura’s son would be killed);


Tangerine meeting the yakuza at Shizuoka station

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • Tangerine does something very interesting here, which is using paradox intention. That is, since he is weak and has to not show that weakness, instead he goes on the offensive. When they call him out because they had told him to leave the train, he discredits them by saying they look like an 80’s dance off party members, and says he’s a professional unlike them. Pretty realistic. When you have a weakness, the best way to hide it is to attack the other side;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Spinning/paradox intention (Tangerine making their weakness seem like a strength);
    • Image/presentation (Tangerine discrediting the yakuza);


Ladybug and Tangerine debrief after failed station meeting

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • Ladybug is pretty much saying they should go for broke and escape because they’ll all get killed. Tangerine he’s not going anywhere without Lemon and the case. So, what we have here on Tangerine’s part is professionalism, maintaining his image, and in the case of Lemon, loyalty as well. Even when facing death, continuing with the mission. It’s also adverse transparency. He’s risking getting killed, which he didn’t need to, in order to stay there and face White Death;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Image/credibility/trustworthiness (By Tangerine, wanting to stay on the train);
    • Adverse transparency (By Tangerine, insisting to stay on the train despite the risks);


Ladybug sitting down with The Elder

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • Again, we see identity and characteristics, plus a bit of motivated reasoning. That is, Ladybug was literally saved from poison, twice, by the antivenom, and he still insists he’s unlucky;
    • We also see a very funny example of effort manipulation. The Elder says, “I’m going to tell you a short story”, and Ladybug says, “I’m good”, and he says, “But it’s very quick”, and he still says, “I’m cool”, and he proceeds anyway;
    • We also see an interesting example of spinning. While Ladybug is considering he’s unlucky, and that’s bad, The Elder tells him that having that name encompasses holding all the bad luck so others may live in peace. Great exercise in spinning and reframing, but I would insist they are both wrong, because Ladybug is not unlucky – there’s like ten assassins dead on the train and he’s still here, just with minor bruises;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Identity/characteristics (Ladybug insisting he’s unlucky);
    • Effort manipulation (The Elder telling the story);
    • Spinning/reframing (The Elder reframing the bad luck as being for the sake of others);


Everyone coming up with the plan

  • Is It Realistic: Hmmmmm;
  • Description:
    • So, we see Ladybug throwing something at Kimura and Lemon to get them to stop fighting. This would be a good persuasion technique – an interrupt to get attention – except that it’s not really an interrupt. In a fight, throwing things is just more fighting. It would not be something different, not an interrupt. I have no idea why they stopped;
    • I also like the spinning/reframing by The Elder. He’s pretty good at this. He says that they need each other, and that they either fight together or die alone;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Physiological priming (Distraction/interrupt);


White Death coming to Ladybug after the crash

  • Is It Realistic: Yes ();
  • Description:
    • It’s funny that we see an example of presence here. I mean, we see that Ladybug is shaken, there’s literally a yakuza head/russian mafioso pointing a gun at him, but he’s reasonably cool. He’s sitting down, and telling him in a relaxed manner, “I’m not Carver”. He’s not as cool as he could be, but naturally it is an extreme situation. So it’s an interesting example of being neutral under threat;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Presence (Ladybug not being that shaken by White Death);

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