Media Asia/China Film/Media Asia Audio Video Distribution/Shenzhen Murmur Culture Communications
Directed by John Woo
Produced by Gordon Chan/Chan Hing-kai
Screenplay by Gordon Chan/Chan Hing-kai/James Yuen/Itaru Era/Ho Miu Ki/Maria Wong/Sophie Yeh
Based on the novel “Kimi yo Funnu yo Kawa o Watare” by Juko Nishimura
Once upon a time there was a God of Action Movies and his name is John Woo. And he was The God of Action Movies because he single-handedly rewrote, reinvigorated, redefined and refined the entire Action Movie genre. I’ve written a review of The Killer in which I attempt to describe the impact that movie had on me personally. And unless you were there, there is no adequate way to describe the impact “The Killer” had when it came to America. Action Movie fans in particular and movie fans in general absolutely lost their collective [Expletive Deleted] minds over that damn movie.
“A Better Tomorrow” “A Better Tomorrow II” “Bullet In The Head” and the totally magnificent “Hard Boiled” which I consider to be the best Action Movie ever made are all movies which along with “The Killer” changed the Action Movie genre forever. John Woo did so by introducing elements never before seen in Action Movies. Beautifully balletic gunfights that were at the same time totally improbable yet garishly brutal. Lush, operatic musical scores. Heroes that might well be modern day versions of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western mystical masters of the gun. Badass trench coats that flowed and fluttered like the capes of superheroes. Flocks of doves appearing in the middle of a blizzard of bullets. Chow Yun-fat with a toothpick in his mouth.
After “Hard Boiled” John Woo succumbed to the siren song of Hollywood where he made a number of movies that were heavily interfered with by The Suits. “Hard Target” and “Face/Off” are probably his most successful American movies although I fail to to see what everybody else does in “Hard Target.” To me, “Face/Off” is the most John Woo of his American movies and should be seen just for the batshit insane performances of John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. I myself enjoy “Mission: Impossible 2” even though it’s generally considered to be the weakest of that series and “Broken Arrow.” The less said about “Paycheck” and the TV movie version/pilot of “Once A Thief” the better.
So, when I found out that John Woo had returned to his Action Movie roots with MANHUNT, I was naturally eager to see if he still had the touch. And while I still feel that his time his Hollywood took something out of him, MANHUNT showed me that John Woo still has it in him to direct compelling Action Movies that thrill, entertain and are just downright fun to watch. But the movie does have some significant problems and we’ll get into them once I finish the obligatory plot synopsis:
Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is an extraordinarily talented lawyer who has successfully defended the international empire of Tenjin Pharmaceutical against numerous lawsuits but his time with the company has come to an end and his firm is sending him to America. The president and CEO of Tenjin, Yoshihiro Sakai (Jun Kunimura) fears that during his time with Tenjin, Du Qiu has learned too many of the company’s secrets and so conspires with a Police Inspector on his payroll to frame Du Qiu for the murder of a young woman. Du Qiu escapes police custody and goes on the run.
The ruthlessly unstable yet undeniably brilliant Detective Satoshi Yamura (Masaharu Fukayama) along with his spanking brand-new partner, Rika (Nanami Sukuraba) are assigned to assist in the hunt for Du Qiu. Yamura does indeed manage to capture Du Qiu but he escapes. This occurs more than once during the course of the movie and gradually, Yamura comes to believe in Du Qiu’s innocence.
In the meantime, Du Qiu is conducting his own investigation into why Sakai set him up and uncovers a plot by Tenjin to create Super Soldiers. A program spearheaded by Sakai’s own son is recruiting homeless people with the promise of big money to allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs for what they are told are modified flu shots. In truth, the Super Soldier drug they are given drives the subjects into a homicidal rage where they cannot control themselves and kill anybody they see.
Du Qiu and Yamura eventually realize that they have to team up and work together to expose the nefarious plot of Tenjin Pharmaceuticals and defeat Sakai. But first they have to go through Sakai’s private army and his own personal assassins; Rain (Ha Ji-won) and Dawn (Angeles Woo. Who is John Woo’s daughter and who I immediately fell in love with right from her first scenes in the bar. She’s the hottie on the right in both images below) Rain and Dawn are Sakai’s adopted daughters he has trained to be killers and due to an act of kindness shown to her by Du Qiu early on in the movie, Rain has her doubts about killing him in particular and about her profession as a whole.
In the interests of fairness and full disclosure I have to point out that the plot of MANHUNT plays out nowhere as simply as I just described. This thing is easily four separate movies smooshed into one. As Desmond Reddick and Thomas Deja pointed out in their review of MANHUNT, it’s as if John Woo’s production assistant tripped and stumbled while carrying four different versions of the screenplay and the pages all got mixed up. And when you consider that seven screenwriters are credited then the all-over-the-place-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot makes sense.
This is not a movie you watch for the acting. In fact, the best actors in the movie are the ones with the least screen time. I wanted to see more of Rain and Dawn as without a doubt, Ha Ji-won and Angeles Woo have the best chemistry and their scenes together are the most fun to watch. While it’s fun as hell to see them mow down a room full of yakuza gangsters, it’s even more fun to see them sitting down to dinner together and talking about their lives and career together.
Masaharu Fukayama is painfully bad in just about every scene he’s in where he has to deliver dialog. Give him some action where he has to shoot with a gun in each hand but for Odin’s sake, don’t let this guy talk. I actually liked Zhang Hanyu as Du Qiu a lot because I’m convinced that Du Qiu must put on a costume at night and go patrolling Japan’s equivalent of Hell’s Kitchen as this is a lawyer possessing athletic/martial arts abilities that would make Matt Murdock weep. And even though he claims he doesn’t like guns and doesn’t know how to use them, by the time of the final apocalyptic shootout, he’s taking out bad guys left and right with frighteningly accurate headshots.
What else? Hell, Woo could have let the line dancing scene go on for another ten minutes and I wouldn’t have minded. The photography is absolutely fantastic. In the past five years or so I have been continually amazed that I watch movies at home on Netflix on my 55″ TV and they look better than movies I see in the theater. It’s jarring that the actors switch between speaking Chinese and English for no apparent reason at all. And as I said to Tom Deja in a phone conversation, I blame the editor for the confusion I had as to the timeline in which things happen when/where the innocent girl is murdered in order to frame Du Qiu.
In fact, I think most of the problems with the movie lie with the fact it has seven different screenwriters. We’ve all seen movies where John Woo has directed from his own screenplays and they’re way more streamlined and coherent that MANHUNT. But still, it’s not a bad movie. It’s not the John Woo of “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled” and maybe we should realize that we’re all thirty years older and we’ve all changed. I take MANHUNT as John Woo’s attempt to have fun doing what he used to do when he was The God of Action Movies and maybe to enjoy it best, we should all take it in that spirit.
MANHUNT is now streaming on Netflix.