Manhunt, the latest from legendary action film maker John Woo, made it’s North American premier, after a world wide debut at the Venice International Film Festival, earlier this week as part of Toronto International Film Festival’s 2017 lineup. Woo, as most action cinema aficionados well know, made a worldwide name for himself in Hong Kong cinema during the late 80’s and early 90’s with genre staples such as A Better Tomorrow I and II, The Killer and, perhaps his crowning achievement, Hardboiled. In these films Woo mixed kung fu style choreography with gunplay, piled on the blood and gore and focused heavily on themes of brotherhood and honour and, as a result, created a whole new genre lovingly referred to as Gun-Fu or Heroic Bloodshed. So popular was this new type of action flick that it took over Hong Kong action cinema and enticed Hollywood studios to recruit Woo in hopes that he could continue his blazing hot streak of hits in America. Unfortunately, Woo’s US career was, for the most part, rather lackluster, with perhaps the notable exception of the Nicholas Cage-John Travolta head to head bout Faceoff. Woo eventually found his way back home where he slightly shifted gears focusing on several Chinese period piece films. However, with the modern day set and guns blazing Manhunt it seems that Woo is back to his old ways to give us a little more of that gun-fu that we all know and love. Or is he?
Manhunt centers on Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu), a lawyer who is set up for murder and is forced to go on the run as a fugitive. Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama), a hero cop out of Osaka, is tasked with bringing Qui to justice, a job that proves more difficult than he first anticipated. Over the course of the manhunt Yamura begins to question Du Qiu’s guilt and the two end up forming a strong relationship and teaming up take down the real villains, which results in several over the top gunfights as one might assume. With a synopsis like this it would seem that Manhunt should fit perfectly on shelf right next to Woo’s other heroic bloodshed classics, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Whereas Woo’s gun-fu films of old more or less took on quite serious tones overall, sometimes perhaps to the point of melodrama, Manhunt seems to exist almost as a parody of the action genre, and even Woo’s own tropes at times. Most of the action sequences and a lot of everything else that makes up the film’s runtime push things just enough over the top that they border on, and arguably become, full blown comedy. This is made evident right from the begging through Yamura’s character introduction. Here he skillfully takes down two criminals holding a small boy, strapped with explosives, for ransom. After disposing of the guards and examining the bomb that still holds the child in peril, Yumura discovers that there are two detonation wires both of the same colour. He then proceeds to place his wire cutters over one of the wires and, after a moment’s hesitation, switches his choice, thus following the classic action movie cliché. However, after the initial wire switch he proceeds to change his mind about ten more times, pausing to ask the boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and then makes several more switches all before, obviously, cutting the right wire. Moments of this vein litter the film causing it to smack of movie cheese.
Despite the atypical tone of the film, Manhunt still contains many of the signature John Woo staples. Abundant are the wild action sequences, including several scenes of ridiculous gunplay. Woo’s choreography this time out isn’t quite as inventive as it once was but there still remains enough for fans to sink their teeth into. As mentioned, the central theme focuses on the brotherly bond that forms between Du Qui and Yamura. Despite it’s hockey nature, albeit an intended one, the relationship between the cop and supposed criminal works wonderfully, but no one could expect differently from one of the masters of brothers-in-arms films. Manhunt combines a share of the traditional, to appease long time fans, but mixes in certainly enough variance to shake up the formula. Ultimately, where this film will pass or fail with filmgoers lies in their willingness to accept the schlock. Those able to take the movie with a grain of salt should find themselves having quite a time.
ManHunt will screen at TIFF on Sept. 14 at Princess of Wales Theatre at 9:00 PM and Sept. 15 at Scotiabank 2 at 11:45 AM.