John Woo is without a doubt one of the finest action filmmakers alive, so it comes to no surprise that whenever his name is attached to a new project, eyes of action film fans widen. Unfortunately, while not as consistent quantity-wise as other Chinese filmmakers. Woo’s quality track record ever since returning to China has ranged from above-average to just plain meh.
Between 2004 and 2017. He has tried to dabble in the epic genre. One grand (Red Cliff) and one melodramatic (The Crossing). While both films have their merits and trademark Woo moments. They pale in comparison compared to both Woo’s Hong-Kong and Hollywood glory days.
John Woo’s return to the Heroic Bloodshed genre has been one of my most anticipated movies of the year; the Maestro himself is back with slow motion, doves and double gunplay so it should be awesome… right? Wrong!
I’m devastated to say that Manhunt sadly feels more like a parody of John Woo and despite a few flashes of greatness it’s one of the most disappointing movies of the year.
I’d been reading several reviews over the past week after a few early screenings. And I started to get nervous but thought “critics know nothing of action, I bet it’s awesome!” Alas, for once they are correct and where the film falls down is the dialogue. The cast speak Chinese, Japanese and English and it would have worked better if nobody attempted English as it caused far too many moments of unintentional mirth as they struggled with the language.
The script was poor at best and it almost felt like a low rent rip-off of old-school Woo with some really laughable acting; the worst culprit was Masaharu Fukuyama who plays one of the leads Yamura; a cop on the trail of fugitive Du Qiu (Hanyu Zhang) who he suspects has been set up. The two bond a la The Killer and in many ways it certainly feels like a John Woo Hong Kong film (phim hong kong). But without the great cast. I really missed Chow Yun-Fat who could have brought some much needed gravitas rather than the absolute comedy we got instead.
There were a few scenes where I was nearly falling of my seat laughing. But they weren’t meant to be funny. One standout moment came in the finale where it flashes into black and white with some over the top Opera music playing and the audience just roared with laughter at how melodramatic it was. It was like Phantom of the Opera meets Airplane and for some reason it just had me crying.
So the dialogue and acting were bad; but surely the action would be amazing? Admittedly, there was some impressive R-rated action with some nicely executed shoot-outs. And Woo’s trademark style is noticeable throughout but considering this is the man who directed Hard Boiled and Face/Off. You’re expecting sequences that will blow you away, which never happens. Despite being well shot the film feels cheap with the action pretty low-key. And even a jet-ski chase that has noticeable CGI which is the last thing you ever want to see in a John Woo movie.
The story also starts off as a procedural man-on-the-run movie but then descends into absolute nonsense when some super soldier bollocks is introduced which practically lost me completely. I’ve never seen the original movie but I’m curious to see how it fares and if the story was any different; I’m still pretty sure it will be the superior film.
The music to Manhunt (Lenh Truy Na) is also bizarre but it did have flashes of Hard Boiled with the jazzy saxophones; it just felt like it belonged in another movie and once again made the audience laugh.
It’s at least well paced and where some Woo movies could have quite deliberate drags this only goes a few minutes without some action kicking off so you’ll never be bored.
Overall, I’m so sorry genre fans. I wanted to love Manhunt. I really did but it was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. It’s an action movie version of The Room. And I will happily buy it and watch it with friends over the years. And wonder how John Woo dropped the ball so badly. I may be overly harsh to the movie. And if you do watch it then I hope you love every second. But I just wanted something truly special instead of a mediocre and forgettable action yarn. Go back and watch Hard Boiled, The Killer or Face/Off if you want to see Woo at his best.