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Manhunt

“Very impressive. Though perhaps a bit excessive.”

–a quote from John Woo’s MANHUNT that I do not believe applies to the movie itself because the concept of excess does not exist in the Woo Zone

Welcome back to the Woo Zone, a dimension of violence and poetry, of bonding between enemies, of glorious slow motion badassness and tragic desecration of symbols of peace and redemption. When we’re not in the Zone, many of us have resigned ourselves to a world where John Woo is in the past, a face on Action Movie Mount Rushmore, but not a currently active artist. If that’s you, I am honored to bring you word of MANHUNT, Woo’s highly enjoyable new movie which has just been undeservedly sentenced to a Netflix dump in May. I saw it by buying a legitimate region A, English subtitled blu-ray from Yesasia.

The hype around this has been that it could be a return-to-form for the maestro, at last returning to contemporary-Hong-Kong-crime-action-male-bonding-with-doves after a detour into Hollywood studio movies (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, PAYCHECK) and then massive Chinese historical action (RED CLIFF). And that’s pretty much true. There are “good guys” and “bad guys” who gain respect for each other. There are a whole bunch of thrilling action sequences and guns used with artistic license. And I will definitely be telling you some things about the doves. There are some topnotch doves in this one. There’s also some dancing. Because Woo was once a dance instructor.

But Woo – despite throwing in a line of dialogue referencing the title of his breakthrough movie – doesn’t seem primarily interested in making a throwback to his own classics like THE KILLER and HARD BOILED. This is kind of his tribute to Japanese cinema. He made it to show his respect for recently deceased favorite actor Ken Takakura, who inspired Chow Yun-Fat’s style in A BETTER TOMORROW. It’s based on a book by Juko Nishimura that was made into a 1976 movie starring Takakura (not available on U.S. video – whatchya gonna do about that, Netflix?). Though some of the stars are Chinese it takes place in (and was filmed in) Osaka, Japan.

Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, THE GREAT WALL) is a Chinese lawyer at a major Japanese pharmaceutical firm. One morning he wakes up in a hotel with a dead woman (Tao Okamoto – the cool sidekick from THE WOLVERINE) next to him. He knows he didn’t do it so he calls the cops, but they arrest him. Things look bad, but he knows the law, and surely he can– oh shit, this cop Asano (Kuniharu Tokunaga) tries to fake like Du Qiu stole a cop’s gun, and he has to make a run for it to avoid getting shot.

So it’s a U.S. MARSHALS kind of story – man on the run, set up in a conspiracy, has to stay ahead of his pursuers long enough to find out what’s going on and prove his innocence. (I say U.S. MARSHALS and not THE FUGITIVE because they seem to have framed him intentionally.) His Tommy Lee Jones is Detective Satoshi Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama, RUROUNI KENSHIN), who gets your traditional action movie supercop intro: using a trick (pretending to be some pushy livestreamer guy) to fearlessly walk into a hostage/bomb situation unarmed and then knock away the guns and arrest the militants. Woo also shoots Yamura’s feet strutting in like he’s a regular Tequila or Chance Boudreaux, but in my opinion the shoes he’s wearing look kind of dorky so I take that as a character moment. He’s kind of a square but he gets it done.

He also has a brand new partner, young Rika (Sakuraba Nanami, ATTACK ON TITAN), who he’s very gruff to, but it’s hard to dampen her enthusiasm.

There’s alot of good chasing on foot, through a subway tunnel, in a car, on jet skis. There are disguises and tricks and hostages. Vehicles flip and explode. Motorcycles drive through a house. He ends up in a shantytown where the homeless hide and shelter him. These are people who compete to be chosen as drug test volunteers for the very company Du Qiu has been working for. I guess they have faith that the volunteers never coming back means they’re off living the good life. Kind of like the pigs at the beginning of BABE when they see other pigs loaded onto trucks.

Du Qiu also gets some help from half-Chinese local Mayumi (Qi Wei), who he met at a party the night before everything went to shit, but there is some tension because, see, her fiance committed suicide after losing a lawsuit to Du Qiu. She had approached him trying to convince him to be a whistleblower or something, and got mixed up in all this shit.

Another complication: two fierce assassins on his ass. Their names are Rain (Ha Ji-won of South Korea) and Dawn (Angeles Woo, Woo’s daughter who was also in REIGN OF ASSASSINS and THE CROSSING) and they come in guns blazing on motorcycle-back. In another life this group could be friendly, people who would bump into each other and discover a mutual love for old movies and quote favorite lines from them. In fact, in another scene they could be that, because at the beginning of the movie Du Qiu happens to go into a cafe and have just such a conversation with them, not knowing that as soon as he leaves they’re gonna perform a massacre.

(My guess is that the lines they’re quoting are from the original MANHUNT, but I haven’t been able to confirm or disprove that theory.)

It gets more convoluted and more crazy as it goes along. This whole mess has something to do with (SPOILER) experimental drugs that give people super-strength and fortitude. So there is some climactic fighting with punches that send people across the room, and there’s some mind control and shit. Though it does have some of the spirit of those Hong Kong masterpieces we love, I consider this drug stuff to be a different thing I love in goofy Hollywood Woo. The third act shift into far-fetched sci-fi concepts made me think of FACE/OFF, and the willingness to be ludicrous reminded me of HARD TARGET, BLACKJACK and M:I 2. Also hats off to the high speed jet ski chase, which reminds me of the speedboat one in FACE/OFF. Which is a good thing.

Composer Taro Iwashiro is Japanese – he did AZUMI and the Japanese remake of UNFORGIVEN – but he’d already worked with Woo on RED CLIFF and THE CROSSING, and his score is kind of on the smooth side of jazzy, something Tequila would approve of.

There’s no butterfly imagery ala BROKEN ARROW or WINDTALKERS. This is dove Woo. I like for directors to have trademarks, so I hate when people make fun of Woo’s doves (it especially kills me when it’s a young person who skipped their Woo phase and that’s all they know about him, probly picked up from some Youtube wiseass or something). I am happy to report that in MANHUNT a car chase crashes right into some sort of dove coop and leaves them flying around for a whole fight scene. I believe there are some special effects involved, but otherwise this would be the ultimate Woo dove scene because (DOVE SPOILER) this is what happens: Yamura gets Du Qiu’s gun and is pointing it at him at close range, but a dove flies right in front of the barrel so Du Qiu uses that moment to kick him, and Yamura falls backwards in slow motion, and the dove flies past him so he turns his head to look at it, causing his skull to just miss landing on a large rock. The dove is like an angelic force that intervenes, preventing each of them from killing the other, so that they can eventually make peace. And there’s at least one other part where a dove seems to be observing or helping. Good work, doves.

There’s not a scene where a church gets shot up – instead there are two weddings, one in the present, one in flashback. And then the dress from the first wedding, saved as a memorial, gets filled with bullet holes. Similarly, some horses get shot at and chased by motorcycles. Violence always encroaches on purity in the Woo Zone.

But also enemies find mutual ground and form a bond. Du Qiu and Yamura pull Mayumi out of an upside down car together. Then they end up handcuffed to each other and have to fight off assassins, running around in perfect synchronicity to kick down a door, unsheathe a sword, reload a gun, slide across a floor shooting like a couple of Chow Yun Fats. There’s a great moment where Du Qiu gets a wounded Yamura to the hospital. Yamura has him uncuffed and tells him he never saw him. “You’re free. Go.” Smash cut to Du Qiu carrying him into the hospital anyway. He had a chance to go and he made his choice.

How is it that these guys are sent after each other and try to kill each other a bunch of times and then they decide they’re best friends? In this one, at the end, we get the female perspective: It’s because “men are simple beings.” Fair enough. I guess I like stories about simple beings.

I’m not gonna tell you this is Woo at 100% HARD BOILED powers. There’s definitely some yolk left. There are a few really weird and awkward storytelling techniques (still photos with ADR dialogue?) and the squeaky clean digital look really makes me miss filmstock. On the other hand he still has an enthusiasm for trying new things, such as a DePalma-esque sequence where Yamura and Rika try to piece together the murder based on the evidence. Rika starts to visualize herself as the victim and gets upset. Yamura sees the body outline dissolve into the victim, and sees himself handing the murder weapon to Du Qiu. By “seeing” it he realizes why it couldn’t be, why Du Qiu must be innocent.

This whole movie has an energy, an enthusiasm, and a specific point-of-view that I have been missing. It doesn’t have to be one of the top Woo movies for it to be a wonderful gift from the doves.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2018 at 10:36 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Manhunt”

  1. “undeservedly sentenced to a Netflix dump”

    I mean, I know you’re not a fan of Netflix, but isn’t this a good thing? Being on Netflix means it will probably be seen by more people in America and other countries than it would have been otherwise.

  2. Also Netflix won’t (I guess) cut half of the movie, put a Hip Hop soundtrack it in it and add a “Quentin Tarantino presents” to the title.

  3. We hope! I’m definetively watching this!

  4. Dan’s right. It means I’m going to watch it… As soon as I get home.

  5. Ok this is now my most anticipated movie in the world. I love getting into the Woo zone.

  6. Dan – No, I agree that it’s great to be available on Netflix. But that should be done after a limited theatrical release and in addition to a Blu-Ray/DVD release. Netflix streaming only = dumping.

    CJ – I don’t think we need to worry about that anymore. Weinstein is gone. Even Bey Logan is gone. The Dragon Dynasty is dead.

  7. I was really bummed to hear about Bey Logan. I always enjoyed his commentary tracks on the Hong Kong Legends DVD releases.

  8. I have to buy this because I “downloaded” it to see it as quickly as I could but I want to make sure they get my money. I’m not a monster.

    I think this movie is bad but it’s also good. Not so bad it’s good because that implies something else. Like a lot of the movie is bad. However, a lot of it is good. The person I want to hear from most is HALLSY.

    Also, the laser bullets, to me, almost ruins every gun fight. Vern, surprised you didn’t mention the distracting choice.

  9. This is on Netflix? I would have no idea about about that, seeing that I was just scouring Netflix three hours ago looking for something worth watching

    Like most people, I used to have Netflix, but stopped paying because they mostly seem to trade in two-star movies that were eight years old (at least on the streaming service). But, like most people, I recently have come back around because someone let me use their user/pass. Why do they seem to hide everything I am interested in watching under mountains of asian rom-coms, bollywood flicks and Mr. Roosevelt?

  10. Manhunt will be on Netflix in May.

  11. Definitely seeing it because Ha Ji-won is in it.

  12. Come on man, don’t call HARD TARGET a detour!

  13. You know I love HARD TARGET, but it’s a whole different category than A BETTER TOMORROW, BULLET IN THE HEAD, THE KILLER and HARD BOILED, and we’d be insane not to wish for a return of that John Woo some day.

  14. Is The Crossing worth seeking out? Maybe I’ll buy both if I can’t wait til May for Manhunt.

  15. I somehow have not seen that or REIGN OF ASSASSINS (which he co-directed). Haven’t heard good things, but will watch soon. I’m sure it’s at least worth seeing.

  16. Yes but this movie has laser bullets. I hate those.

  17. REIGN OF ASSASSINS is definitely worth seeing, I liked it. It’s interesting that while Woo is still active, he’s also going through a bit of a John Carpenter phase too with his filmography getting remakes. Last year I suffered through THE ADVENTURERS which despite the title and Andy Lau is based on ONCE A THIEF. Better but still nothing to blast the original out of my memory is Ding Sheng’s A BETTER TOMORROW 2018, which relocates the story from Hong Kong to the northeast port city of Qingdao in Mainland China.

  18. So Better Tomorrow 2018 isn’t good? What does it have in common with the original? Can we also talk about about the worst thing to happen to action cinema in Hong Kong was 1997.

  19. Stern: Even the laser bullets that lead-dude stopped Neo-style in GODZILLA: FINAL WARS?

  20. I don’t know. I just know that you guys need to watch this movie so we can actually talk about it.

  21. Sternshein: ABT 2018 follows the original pretty closely plot-wise. Characters are mostly analogous as well with the exception of two female love interests for the equivalent Ti Lung/Chow Yun-fat characters but they get shuffled away fairly quickly. The rest is fairly superficial: the deal that goes bad is between Chinese and Japanese gangsters instead of Hong Kong and Taiwanese groups, the “Ho” and “Mark” equivalents try to go straight as a fish sellers instead of working at a taxi company.

    But anyway, to your question, I liked it well enough. The actors are good enough and give sincere, committed performance. But as in the last Ding Sheng film I saw, RAILROAD TIGERS starring Jackie Chan, the editing is infuriating. Even in calm dialogue scenes there’s rapid, seemingly unmotivated cuts. The action scenes are energetic but a tad incoherent and lazily staged. I think I may have seen some of those laser bullets that you so despise (the technical term is tracer fire, but I’m sure you know that).

    Let’s get back to MANHUNT though. I like the little touch in matching Zhang and Fukuyama to the original actors, with Zhang’s close haircut much like Ken Takakura’s and Fukuyama’s wavy and unkempt look invoking Yoshio Harada.

  22. I did not know that about tracer bullets and I hate them.

  23. Today is the day Manhunt comes out. I’m looking forward to revisiting it with one of my best friends watching it this time. It’s really stuck with me. The version I saw was an torrented version where I had to download the subs elsewhere. I’m pretty sure I’ll finally be able to understand what the fuck is actually happening.

  24. Yeah this was a good one, I really liked it. I appreciated how it not only didn’t mind being unashamedly awesome but also increasingly ridiculous.

  25. I take back anythig bad I ever said about this movie. Rewatching it last night with my friend was so enjoyable. Nobody directs an action sequence quite like Woo.

  26. As it turns out, this even is an international Netflix release, but obviously one that they don’t have faith in, because I can’t remember seeing them advertise it and they only uploaded it with subtitles. That’s not a problem for me, but their releases are usually dubbed.

    Also for some reason this is called SELF DEFENSE (“Notwehr”) here and either I missed something or whoever gave it that title didn’t watch the movie.

  27. So I guess this is another thing Netflix bought with their mountains of cash and forgot about? I only knew it was being released on Netflix because a short announcement trailer popped up on Netflix’s youtube page a week ago and I recognized it as the *same exact* announcement trailer Media Asia released online 8 months ago. Way to promote, Netflix!

    Story was total nonsense, but I really enjoyed seeing all those WOO FLOURISHES on the screen again. I missed those odd freeze frames and sudden smooth jazz. The dove scene, the jet ski scene, and the handcuff scene were all magical. I didn’t really know what to make of the movie at first, but I warmed up to it once the eccentric, know-it-all ACE COP was introduced. I knew I was going to like the movie when a crying little kid asks Eccentric Ace Cop “How can I grow up to be like you??” and Eccentric Ace Cop kind of pounds the little kid’s chest?

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