Manhunt (HK 2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/21/18
Director: John Woo
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Wei Qi, Ha Ji-Won, Jun Kunimura, Angeles Woo, Nanami Sakuraba, cameos by Tao Okamoto, Yasuaki Kurata

A lawyer named Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is framed for murder, and some crooked cops are in on the deal. Inspector Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) thinks he's innocent, and fate (or just plain bad luck) forces the two of them to work together if either of them wants to stay alive. Corporate greed and illegal pharmaceutical research are the source of everyone's misery, but the story is instantly forgettable.

"Manhunt" marks a return to form for John Woo, as he revisits the "heroic bloodshed" genre that he defined and popularized back in the late 1980s. It definitely features Woo's signature style and borrows elements from "The Killer" (1989), "Hard-Boiled" (1992), and "A Better Tomorrow 2" (1987), but overall it feels a bit soft and sluggish. The action scenes lack the raw energy and intensity of those early classics, and the actors are missing a certain charisma and star power that people like Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, Danny Lee, Leslie Cheung, and Ti Lung brought to those films. But I can't fault the actors for that. Zhang Hanyu and Masaharu Fukuyama are excellent actors and their characters reflect the same virtues and traits that all of Woo's heroes do. Perhaps they just seem overly familiar? One of the biggest challenges the film has is that the dialog bounces between Chinese, Japanese, and English, which adds an extra burden for the actors, and the mixed results are awkward for the audience. Additionally, the music score is weak and fails to set a tempo for the action as well as emotionally support the drama.

John Woo has never been good at directing women or writing female characters, so I was pleasantly surprised by the number of supporting women in the film, including cops, assassins, bodyguards, lovers, and widows. Super pretty Ha Ji-won is wonderful as an emotionally conflicted assassin, although her wardrobe choices are questionable. John Woo's daughter, Angela, also plays an assassin, and she gets to see a fair amount of action. Cute and perky Nanami Sakuraba is essentially the same as Teresa Mo's thankless character in "Hard-Boiled", while love interest Wei Qi is a multi-layered character who picks up a gun just like everyone else at the end of the movie. Unfortunately, the graceful Tao Okamoto is sorely underutilized as a token piece of sexual eye candy. All of the women in the film are gorgeous and intensely driven, although they all suffer from overly pink lipstick.

The action scenes are well staged, beautifully filmed, and highly precise, but they seem kind of boring and feel like Woo is just revisiting past glories. However, there's some nice gunplay along with some inventive choreography that definitely caught my attention. The fight scenes are decent and favor MMA-styled moves, while veteran karate star Yasuaki Kurata shows up for a pointless and confusing brawl that feels out of place and custom written just for him. Digital blood and glaring wire work are constant distractions, along with some clunky camera work and odd editing choices. Someone had a little too much fun with the CGI in this film, and it's a bit overbearing at times. For the most part, I found it entertaining, but disappointingly disposable. It's not a movie that's going to stick in my memory.