After a Hollywood burnout and a few fanciful propaganda epics in China, John Woo is finally back to doing what he does best in ‘Manhunt’. Of course, those looking back on the man who gifted the world the image of a double-fisted gunman diving through the air in slo-mo through a sea of doves as a preeminent artiste might not agree with that assessment.
‘Manhunt’ is beautifully constructed trash, just like many a John Woo movie before it, and it’s nice to have him back delivering down-and-dirty B-movie bliss again.
The plot of this remake of a 1970s Japanese thriller starts simple before devolving into nonsense. It’s essentially a twist on ‘The Fugitive’ with Zhang Hanyu playing a successful lawyer framed for murder and fleeing for his life. He’s pursued by a detective played by Masaharu Fukuyama who is as brilliant as he is eccentric. Eventually, they form a bond from opposite sides of the law. (The bond kicks off during a hilariously self-aware fight with life-saving doves and sealed with a jetski chase of friendship, because John Woo is awesome.) That’d be enough to hinge a movie around, but there’s also a convoluted story involving a pharmaceutical company making Captain America-style super soldier serum tested on the homeless, a tale of two wise-cracking female assassins, a revenge plot from a blood-spattered bride, and probably other stuff too that I’m forgetting.
The script is a bit of a mess and credited to almost a half dozen screenwriters to prove it, but that hardly matters. The point of it was for John Woo to bring back the groundbreaking cinematic stylings that made him a Hong Kong legend. Obvious budget limitations and cheapo digital cinematography hamper the master from going full Woo, but dammit he comes close. A few of the action scenes (especially one involving a farm house, a pair of handcuffs, and an army of dirt bike assassins) have the magical mixture of balletic ultra-violence and slapstick that made the director famous. The rest is lovingly over-stylized, filled with all the unexpected freeze-frames, swoopy montages of quiet moments, and melodrama on overdrive that made movies like ‘Hard Boiled’ and ‘A Better Tomorrow II’ so goofy and delightful between the bloodshed.
Those who remember classic Woo more from over-intellectualized essays on ‘The Killer’ than the content of his insane B-movies might walk away confused or disappointed. This isn’t art or poetry, despite sumptuous style. It’s beautifully constructed nonsense the flies by like a freight train until an admittedly convoluted flameout near the end. Still, it’s nice to have Woo back and delivering this sort of heightened silliness in ways only he can. The flick even features enough self-conscious humor to suggest he’s aware of his camp value again. Or not. There are definitely times when this one is goofy in the wrong ways. The point is that John Woo made a ridiculously entertaining bit of pulp entertainment, and that’s cause for celebration.