Director: John Woo
Producer: Gordon Chan, John Woo
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Ji-won Ha, Jun Kunimura, Naoto Takenaka, Masaharu Fukuyama, Yasuaki Kurata, Angeles Wo, Stephy Qi
Running Time: 106 min.
By Matija Makotoichi Tomic
When a director of John Woo’s caliber announces his return to the genre that made his name, it’s always a cause for celebration, just as it is a reason to worry. After signing his name on some of the greatest, genre-defining action pieces Hong Kong cinema has to offer, Woo decided his next movie would be a remake of a Japanese classic starring legendary Ken Takakura. Based on a novel by Juko Nishima, adapted in 1976 by Japanese director Junya Sato, the original Manhunt was a fugitive thriller with a dose of adventure, slowly unraveling mystery plot and a touch of absurdity; Takakura’s character, prosecutor Morioka Fuyuta, gets attacked by a bear (twice), saved by a horse stampede while being chased down Tokyo streets and finally escapes to freedom in a cessna after getting a crash course in piloting. While not the greatest movie ever, Manhunt was a hit and had a huge influence on Chinese filmmakers of the time as one of the first foreign movies to be released in China following the end of Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps more than remake, Woo wished to make a movie dedicated to its leading star, Ken Takakura, who passed away in 2014. He calls Takakura one of his favorite actors, and one who inspired a great deal of his films. The role of the wrongfully accused lawyer Takakura portrayed in the original movie was cast to Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu, with a new name Du Qiu, as the character is also Chinese now. This time, instead of being framed for stealing 200,000 yen, a diamond ring and a canon camera, the character in question is being charged with murder. After waking up next to a dead woman’s body, Du Qiu’s home is soon crawling with police and he finds himself arrested. While escorted to a police car, his escape is staged by dirty cop Asano and he’s forced to run. Now a fugitive, Du Qiu tries to clear his name and find out the truth while being hunted by Japanese hero detective Yamura, played by Masaharu Fukuyama, last seen in the great 2016 movie Scoop! directed by One Hitoshi.
The truth Du Qiu seeks includes the Teijin pharmaceutical company’s aged owner Sakai (played by Jun Kunimura, Japanese stranger from The Wailing), his troublesome son and an experimental drug that gives superhuman abilities to its users, instead of just turning them into obedient, zombie-like slaves, as was the case in the original movie. Woo, or should I say his seven-member script team (Gordon Chan, Chan Hing Kai, James Yuen, Itaru Era, Ho Miu Ki, Maria Wong and Sophie Yeh), introduces a new, widow character aiming to avenge the death of her husband/scientist who found the drug formula but decided not to share it when he realized it would be used to do wrong. Throw in two assassins for good measure, and it would seem there’s nothing standing in a way for Woo to deliver another slice of cinema brilliance. Except for Woo himself.
As hard as it is to say… for the most part Manhunt is a disappointing experience. Painful to watch in fact, at least in the first half with bad, uninspired acting, horrible English dialogue delivery and god-awful CGI to blame for that. Next to some of the solutions being downright silly, Manhunt suffers from often being poorly executed and unconvincing. Du Qiu manages to escape while being practically surrounded by Japanese cops in the metro station, after which he jumps in front of the moving train and outruns it? I know better than to expect a new Hard Boiled or The Killer, but from the first minute, Manhunt is like a cold shower for a fan on fire.
Luckily, it does get better later on and the Woo-hungry audience is in for some well-orchestrated gunplay accompanied with enjoyable martial arts action. It’s the jet ski chase scene involving Yamura and Du Qiu that sets Manhunt on the path of righting wrongs, at least when not being digitally enhanced. Standing out as film’s easily finest hour is the shootout at Mayumi’s place with Yamura and Du Qiu fighting off motorbike-riding attackers whilst handcuffed together sharing one gun; that is until Yamura gets to show off his katana skills. It’s the pace, intensity and the execution that make this one of the highlights and it feels good seeing the real John Woo is still alive and kicking somewhere underneath all this mess. If only all of the action was this good.
Same can be said for the lab showdown reminiscent of the grand finale of Hard Boiled, though not on the same level, naturally. Next to the standard freeze frames, slow motion and white doves – which are now partly computer-generated – Woo adds a few new tricks to his game. The most significant one being the fatal femmes. Woo’s cinematic universe is no longer reserved for male heroes only. With Manhunt, girls have their guns and they are every bit as cool, if not more. This marks Manhunt as the first among Woo’s envious list of titles to have its director flirting with the Girls-with-Guns subgenre. The ladies delivering the gun action are Ji-Won Ha as the emotional Rain; and Angeles Woo as chubby Dawn. After casting Angeles in both Red Cliff and The Crossing, could it be perhaps Woo is aiming to fix a spot for his daughter in the industry?
Along with some surprisingly good action moments, reason more for fans to get their kicks is white-haired veteran Yasuaki Kurata appearing in a minor role as chief hobo. Not only is his performance easily the best one here, but his character is also the most likeable (or maybe I’m just being sentimental), on top of this, he also gets to bust a few moves once injected with the experimental drug that turns him into raving lunatic. Once returned to his cell, he unleashes his rage on his fellow guinea pig inmates, delivering rewarding martial arts mayhem.
Unfortunately, good action is not all you’d want from a John Woo movie, it’s the whole package. Manhunt serves as yet another confirmation that the glory days are over. Gone are the 80’s and 90’s and so it seems is the Hong Kong we all know and grew to love. Expecting it to be what it once was only makes it worse. Just like Ringo Lam – who complained how CGI ruined the good old Hong Kong action, but couldn’t resist using it in Wild City – John Woo stated he’s thinking about “going back to the old times, when it wasn’t so much about money,” only to choose the easy way to do it. Despite having its moments, Manhunt left me thinking I’m lucky there’s still plenty of old style Hong Kong goodness I have yet to see. I’m gonna need some now to help me feel better.
Matija Makotoichi Tomic’s Rating: 5/10