Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu), a debonair Chinese lawyer working in Japan, is at a party celebrating his defeat of a lawsuit filed against his employer Yoshihiro Sakai (Jun Kunimura), CEO of Tenjin Pharmaceuticals. Captivated by a stunningly beautiful woman (Tao Okamoto, from The Wolverine (2013)), he arranges to meet her at his apartment. Only to wake up next morning with her dead in his bed. Unable to recollect the events last night, Du is arrested by cops led by the corrupt and drug-addled Mamoru Ito (Naoto Takenaka). On the way to prison Mamoru tries to murder Du who turns the tables and escapes. Hot on his trail is super-cool Detective Satoshi Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) who along with being a bad-ass possesses a keen analytical mind. It leads him to suspect Du Qiu was framed by someone attempting to divert attention from even more monstrous crime. In a breakneck chase, cop and fugitive try to outwit not just each other but also a host of hired killers, criminals and conspirators in order to survive long enough to uncover the truth.
Following the costly failure of his grandiose two-part historical romance-cum-disaster epic The Crossing (2015), Hong Kong action maestro John Woo returns here to the kind of high-octane heroic bloodshed thriller that made his name. Yes, doves and all. In fact ManHunt brings Woo full circle since it is a remake of the 1976 Ken Takakura vehicle Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare, also known as Hot Pursuit or indeed Manhunt, that inspired a great deal of his work. Including classics like A Better Tomorrow (1986) (which drew its title from the movie's closing line) and The Killer (1989) (which recreates a key assassination sequence). Set in a glitzy and glamorous Osaka, Japan (where film censors are more lenient with movies about gun-toting gangsters or hit-men) the film is nonetheless mounted on a more modest and intimate scale compared with Woo's most recent work.
Adapting the source novel by Juko Nishimura, the multi-authored screenplay (which includes input from fellow HK director Gordon Chan who also co-produced, James Yuen, Japanese scribe Itaru Era, Korean writer Ho Miu Ki, Maria Wong and Sophie Yeh) juggles multiple plot goals. It is simultaneously a classic wrong man on the run story, riffing on themes found in Hollywood thrillers from The Fugitive (1993) and Sidney Lumet's The Morning After (1986) to Red Corner (1997), a wistful meditation on classic cinema ("Nobody talks about classic films anymore" lament several characters) contrasting romance with tragic reality, an exercise in self-referencing wherein Woo puts new twists on the assassination set-piece from The Killer, the motorcycle fight from Mission: Impossible II (2000), even the hi-tech jail break from Face/Off (1997), a sincerely melancholy character study in line with his past work, and in its outlandish third act even a sci-fi thriller in which an experimental drug mutates victims into psychotic superhumans. Which steers the film into Paycheck (2003) territory. While ManHunt's schizophrenic ambitions will likely seem ludicrous to the mainstream, seasoned HK film fans and devotees of Woo in particular may prove more receptive to its eccentric charms. Especially given the thematic spine of its admittedly wayward story reflects Woo's reoccurring empathy for the downtrodden, persecuted and desperate. This is especially evident in a subplot wherein the fugitive Du finds refuge within a kindly community of migrant workers led by veteran martial arts star Yasuaki Kurata (who lands a brief sequence to show he's still got the moves).
Featuring an international cast the film unfolds in multiple languages including unfortunately stilted English that renders a few key dramatic moments less effective. Nonetheless the characters are uniformly well defined with faceted personalities and complex, interwoven motives. Whether hero or villain Woo pulls off no small feat in enabling viewers to empathize with almost every one of the principal players. Lead actor Zhang Hanyu and ridiculously handsome J-pop multi-instrumentalist Masaharu Fukuyama deliver intense, earnest performances even if they can't quite match the charisma of Woo's most iconic stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and especially Chow Yun-Fat. One notable distinguishing aspect of ManHunt is that, in the wake of Vicky Zhao-Wei's stellar turn in Red Cliff (2008) John Woo has gotten a lot better at crafting strong women. Some of that might be down to script input from Maria Wong and Sophie Yeh. Although Yamura's perky-cute but inept partner Hyakota (Nanami Sakuraba, from Attack on Titan: The Movie (2015) and Summer Wars (2010)) is a step back the likes of Qi Wei as a gutsy, shotgun-wielding lab tech with a tragic back-story connected to Du and Korean star Ji-won Ha as a drug-addled yet conscience-stricken hit-woman land standout moments. Also featured in the cast as Ha's hit-woman partner is Woo's daughter Angeles Woo who makes a believably intense bad-ass.
The action sequences, including a breakneck jet-ski chase, an insane shootout at a wedding and a farmhouse siege with the heroes battling Angeles' deranged hit-woman while handcuffed together, are pure vintage John Woo. Largely reliant on practical effects they expose the CGI enhanced likes of the Fast & Furious franchise for the bloated video-game nonsense that they are. Woo brings his full range of bravura cinematic techniques to the film, making a slight story vivid, imaginative and exciting. What ManHunt lacks in logic it makes up for in stirring empathy, romanticism and a whole lot of gun-play. Oh, and of course doves.
One of the most influential directors working in the modern action genre. Hong Kong-born Woo (real name Yusen Wu) spent a decade making production-line martial arts movies for the Shaw Brothers before his melodramatic action thriller A Better Tomorrow (1987) introduced a new style of hyper-realistic, often balletic gun violence.
It also marked Woo's first collaboration with leading man Chow-Yun Fat, who went on to appear in a further three tremendous cop/gangster thrillers for Woo - A Better Tomorrow II, The Killer and Hard Boiled. The success of these films in Hong Kong inspired dozens of similar films, many pretty good, but few with Woo's artistry or emphasis on characters as well as blazing action.
In 1993, Woo moved over to Hollywood, with predictably disappointing results. Face/Off was fun, but the likes of Broken Arrow, Windtalkers and Mission: Impossible 2 too often come across as well-directed, but nevertheless generic, studio product. Needs to work with Chow-Yun Fat again, although his return to Hong Kong with Red Cliff proved there was life in the old dog yet.