Dir: John Woo
Starring Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ha Jiwon, Jun Kunimura
2.5 STARS (out of 5)
John Woo is a name that’s synonymous with action movies of pretty much all calibres – he’s not afraid to parody his own sense of super-fast, hyper-cheesy action – and in his latest effort, Manhunt, this has never been more evident. Manhunt is a surprise new entry in Netflix’s original movies library for May, making it an interesting sight for anyone who is more than invested in their action flicks. Like many films in the genre, it’s perhaps a little too easy to anticipate what’s coming up – but, in Woo fashion this time around, he’s giving you everything you expect and much, much more besides.
Manhunt was reportedly developed by Woo as an appreciation for the 1976 movie of the same name, adapted from the same book – Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare – written by Juko Mishimura. It’s also thought to be a set piece that pays tribute to one of Woo’s favourite actors, Ken Takakura. In any case, the story this time, based in Japan, centres around one Du Qiu, who finds himself mixed up wrongly accused of murder – falling afoul of the law and getting roped into a messy, bullet-spraying muddle and a chase led by a charismatic detective – and that’s only the half of it. While the plot here is ridiculous and the twists involved barmy to a fault, it’s all part of the wider experience – and, let’s face it, even though you’re mostly going to be reading subtitles, you’re going to be taken along for the ride after one brief scene of gun-toting waitress assassins before the main title even appears.
Manhunt is a bizarre cross between classic Woo action and incredible, intense melodrama – it is completely and utterly bonkers, and it revels in each and every second of it. This is a movie that’s not just an adaptation – a pet project – and a wry, half-knowing homage to Woo’s craziest work, it’s the culmination of several different screenwriters working together. If you have ambition to keep up with the plot, you may want to start training now – it is absolutely haphazard and – while its pacing is admirable – it’s a headache waiting to happen. Anyone wanting to give Manhunt more than a cursory glance may be tempted to take a breather midway through (intermissions used to be commonplace for a reason) – though if you’re the sort of viewer that appreciates a plot taking second billing to all-out choreography, you’re hardly likely to worry. Skyline after skyline, odd, fumbling scenes and furious men attempting to make leads – throw in bizarre saxophone music and some of the dodgiest, cheesiest lines of dialogue and delivery this side of Under Siege, and you have a perfect movie for a few friends to watch over a few drinks. It is utterly off-the-wall in the best possible way.
That being said, going into Manhunt without full knowledge that everything is more or less meant to be big, daft and almost hilariously intense may ruin the experience a little for you. Woo hasn’t put Manhunt together as a joke – it’s something he’s directed as a tribute and it’s clearly been a labour of love – but at the same time, he’s taken a few moments here and there to bask in his own inimitable style. He’s unafraid to make things super-cheesy and all-out bonkers – anyone who remembers one of his best movies, Face/Off, will likely have plenty to watch out for here – and thankfully, it helps to make things go down that little bit more palatably. As a movie, it is muddled, intensely paced and self-aware in the best possible way – though this may not go down too well with many viewers, it will at least satisfy those who are looking for something big, sprawling and wryly funny all at the same time. In a similar fashion to, say, how some of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s old movies may seem overly cheesy nowadays, Woo’s Manhunt takes that cheese head-on and sticks its face in it. This will appeal incredibly well to a very certain audience – and providing you’re willing to ride with the insane plot tangents and the laugh-out-loud dialogue, you’ll likely get plenty out of this.
Manhunt - Official Trailer (Netflix)
That being said, many will point out that Manhunt is hardly Woo’s best – though it does show off some of his trademark high-octane work – it is a breakneck flurry from start to finish – and one which maybe could have done with a little less melodrama and a little more meat. All things considered, however, this is a perfect Friday night movie for Netflix queuers, and one you should watch if you’re looking to switch your brain off and indulge in some serious choreogreaphy – from one of the best in the business.