“Manhunt”, which is a remake of the Japanese action classic from 1976 of the same name directed by Jun’ya Satô and the adaptation of the novel written by Jukô Nishimura, is the new film directed by the acclaimed action master John Woo, and stars Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Jun Kunimura, Tao Okamoto, Ha ji-won, Qi Wei and Angeles Woo among others.
“Manhunt” is the maestro’s return to his definitive style: the gun-fu, the heroic bloodshed. The master hasn’t directed a film of this style since “Mission Impossible 2”, and if you exclude that cool Hollywood mess, it is since “Hard Boiled” that he hasn´t made a Hong Kong action film. Fans of the director and of Hong Kong action cinema have been waiting for years for this moment to come, and it’s finally here.
It is impossible not to have expectations with a new film directed by John Woo, especially when it is known that he returns to the origins that catapulted him to fame and popularity: Guns, explosions, frenetic action, slow motion, doves, motorbike-riding assassins and friendship. All those ingredients are present in the film. The million dollar question is: Has Mr. Woo met those expectations? The answer is a resounding no, and that is not due to the strong demand imposed on the famous filmmaker, because if “Manhunt” was the result of another director’s vision, the film would still be bad and disappointing. The fact is that “Manhunt” is, overall, lousy and looks and feels as a low budget TV movie.
“Manhunt” tells the story of an international lawyer, Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu), who works for a pharmacy enterprise led by the CEO Sakai (Jun Kunimura). One night, Du Qiu is accused of murdering a female companion in his own room. Du Qiu is convinced he has been framed, for he hasn’t done anything and he actually found the female corpse right at the side of his bed when he woke up in the morning. Detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) will try to follow Du Qiu everywhere, but when he manages to escape several times, the detective begins to respect the fugitive and to believe his innocence. On the other hand, a couple of female assassins, Rain and Dawn (Ha ji-won and Angeles Woo), pick up the job to eliminate Du Qiu in order to stop him causing any more trouble.
To begin with, the story is simple focused; but the way it is told and represented is silly and so over the top that’s hilarious. The characters are mostly caricatured to the limit, making strange decisions in key moments. The poor dialogue doesn’t help at all; with over the top phrases delivered so badly that what is supposed to sound serious ends up sounding funny and cringe worthy. And the actors are not to blame really, as all of them are good and renowned actors who have proven to be excellent before. There is a lot of English spoken throughout the movie, and there is a problem when non-English speakers are having pronunciation problems, since it affects their performances, as it is ascertainable in the film. What the audience ends up witnessing is a series of horrible dialogue mixed with bad acting, and the result is indubitably poor.
Now, if we were only talking about the story itself and about the dialogue being questionable in a John Woo movie, what it’s left? The action of course, the fun and frenetic action. Well, even that aspect is bad here on “Manhunt”. Not only the action looks careless and cheap, but it also looks forced. For the most part, Takuro Ishizaka’s job as a cinematographer is decent. It is well shot in the sense of framing and the camera placement, but still the film’s looks very cheap. The action editing is also favorable, generally speaking, and very John Woo style, but it’s the lighting and the post production that kills it. As said before, it looks awfully low budget.
One would think that maybe those kinds of movies that in yesteryear worked, nowadays they do not. The style that John Woo created was very much integrated in the 80’s and 90’s. His films had much influence in Hong Kong, later spreading throughout the world and influencing other directors. Maybe what worked before, today is not accepted. It is difficult to imagine if this same movie had been successful in the past, because honestly, “Manhunt” has all the ingredients to be a decent film and an, overall, good product. You have excellent actors, good concepts, a decent story and a script that, even if it’s poor and over the top, can work depending on the approach you give to it; but above all, you have a good director with a unique vision as far as action is concerned. What happened then? It is said that “Manhunt” is a parody with all of the John Woo elements and that it is not supposed to be taken seriously, but honestly, that is no excuse.
The truth is that the film is entertaining, yes, and it could be fun to watch if it weren’t for those other aspects previously described, preventing you from taking the product seriously and enjoying the movie as a whole. There is some fun to be found in Manhunt, that’s for sure, and if someone ends up enjoying the film is great; but looking back at John Woo’s career and then looking at the production design alongside the result of “Manhunt”, the outcome is disappointing.
Overall, “Manhunt” is a poor and clumsy executed film brought by John Woo in an attempt to return to his action identity, filled with lousy acting and messy editing; ending in a cheap looking film full of over the top characters and laughable set pieces. Maybe next time John Woo, fingers crossed.