Film review: Manhunt – Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama in John Woo’s ridiculous but fun bullet ballet
Forget the cheesy dialogue and ludicrous plot; this action thriller about a man framed for murder who’s pursued across Japan by female assassins and a cop – with whom he bonds – is a guilty pleasure
To the critics who dismiss this film for its ludicrous plot and stilted dialogue, I ask this: have John Woo Yu-sen’s movies – including his “heroic bloodshed” classics from the late 1980s and early ’90s – ever not been cheesy? Manhunt, which marks the action auteur’s return to contemporary thrillers after a pair of mega-budget period epics (Red Cliff and The Crossing), is a silly but mostly entertaining effort that will delight more than a few of his fans.
Based on a novel by Juko Nishimura which spawned a film adaptation by Junya Sato in 1976, this action-packed production revolves around Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu, Operation Mekong ), a Chinese-born corporate lawyer who’s been working for an Osaka-based pharmaceutical giant harbouring some very dark secrets. On the morning after he parts ways with the company, Du finds a dead woman on his bed and a police squad at his door.
From the split second he is let go by a corrupt cop at the crime scene, the man framed for murder begins an exhilarating run that sees him, at one point during a frantic early scene, sprint in front of a subway train to evade arrest. With both the police force and a pair of assassins (Ha Ji-won and Angeles Woo) on his trail, Du ends up relying on a mysterious woman (Qi Wei), allegedly wronged by the company, to clear his name.
This being a Woo movie, the fugitive is set to find his match in – and subsequently bond with – the cop Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama, Scoop! ), whose wife’s death has turned him into a fearless law enforcer during missions. The cringeworthy exchange in English between Du and Yamura is, depending on your perspective, either a source of calculated hilarity or the epitome of everything that’s misconceived about Manhunt.
Film review: Peace Breaker – Aaron Kwok, Wang Qianyuan face off in Chinese remake of Korean thriller A Hard Day
For the most part Manhunt plays like a gleeful rehash of the director’s signature scenes: from impossible escapes to shoot-outs in public spaces, and from a random breed of white doves to a most awkward nod to A Better Tomorrow. Then the plot gets messy with a storyline about the development of a superdrug – making Woo the second Hong Kong film legend in two years to be tripped up by an ill-advised stab at Z-grade sci-fi, after Ringo Lam Ling-tung’s Sky on Fire.
Tightly paced and at times overly melodramatic, Woo’s film is a ridiculous but very enjoyable action thriller – one that, perhaps inadvertently, takes his two leading men way out of their comfort zones. It might be for all the wrong reasons, but there’s certainly a lot of fun for the audience in seeing Zhang and Fukuyama try to upstage each other with the incredibly unnatural lines they’re given. All in all, Manhunt is a guilty pleasure.
Manhunt opens on November 23
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook