Director: John Woo
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ha Jiwon, Jun Kunimura
Watch Manhunt online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Nobody talks about classic movies anymore,” laments Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) at the start of John Woo’s new film, Manhunt. It’s a sentiment that the director seems to share, as this action flick marks a return-to-form for the legendary helmer. Moreover, it marks a return-to-basics, as he heads to the realm of cop crime thrillers for some familiar – but no less fun – thrills.
It’s a sentiment that actually saves Du Qiu’s life, as the lawyer finds himself in an Osaka bar, chatting to two waitresses (Ha Ji-won and Angeles Woo) about films, before he exits, and they promptly whip out some guns and kill an entire room of gangsters who are eating out back. It’s stylish, it’s surprising and it’s stupidly entertaining – you can almost hear Woo smiling behind the camera, as he slides effortlessly back into high-octane gear.
Du Qiu, we learn, is about to leave the pharmaceutical giant that he’s been defending for years – much to the company’s displeasure. So when he attends a corporate shindig, you’d perhaps expect the boss to use a woman to try and seduce him into staying. When she winds up dead in his bead the following morning, though, Du Qiu goes on the run, pursued by ruthless detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama). It’s a pursuit that takes us to a construction site and a science laboratory, by way of a subway tunnel, a shanty town and jet skis – and, yes, a flock of doves also appear.
It’s a treat to see Woo at work, sending up his own back catalogue as well as reminding us why he was the maestro of action cinema for so long in the first place. Cars, motorbikes, and even a country mansion are thrown at the screen, each one setting up a ridiculous array of stunts. Even years after his last gun-toting blockbuster, Woo has lost none of his imaginative choreography for balletic set pieces.
The script, however, could do with a little less action and a little more thoughtful conversation: based on the Japanese novel Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare, it’s adapted for the screen by no fewer than seven people, and you get the impression that they were never in the same room together. The bizarre plot twists fly thick and fast with little logic, as we move from a cat-and-mouse set-up to everything ranging from corrupt officials and explosions to even a subplot involving Marvel-esque super-soldiers.
Through this all, it’s inevitable that Yamura and Qiu will end up respecting each other for their macho determination and apparent invincibility – and bond they do, complete with dialogue straight out of the 1980s. “There’s only one end for a fugitive,” offers one. “A dead end.” “I’ll be back… with the truth,” says another.
It’s that knowingly over-the-top quality that helps Manhunt brush past its weak screenplay, and the cast (particularly Ha Ji-won and Angeles Woo) are more than game to play along – Qi Wei brings multi-lingual fun to the party as Mayumi, an ally with a grudge, while Nanami Sakuraba has the best arc of the film as Rika, a young cop who proves herself one of the few straight-shooting arrows on the force. But this is Woo’s show, and he’s reliving his greatest hits with a wink and an infectious energy, jumping from bomb defusal to punch-ups in a car without wasting a minute of screen-time.
The result is a defiantly old-school slice of Woo that is less a breath of fresh air and more a warm waft of nostalgia, one that explicitly celebrates classic movies with sincere affection – the film is partly intended as a tribute to Japan’s Ken Takakura, who starred in the 1976 version of the same book. Is it a classic in its own right? No. But for Woo fans who miss the pre-Hollywood days of The Killer, Manhunt is definitely something worth talking about. For younger generations, meanwhile, it’s a rollicking conversation starter.
Manhunt is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.