In the end, there are only a limited number of basic plots to draw upon from the Asian police genre. Legendary action director John Woo (Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2) and his seven screenwriters dispense with all of them in Manhunt, leaving just a string of sophisticated and thrilling set pieces. They may be worth the price of admission for genre fans, who will see in them a return to classic Woo in the spirit of 1989’s The Killer, but this isn’t going to go down in history as his best film.
A pity there’s not more logic and coherency in this remake of Jun’ya Sato’s 1976 movie of the same title, because the unusual pairing of a Chinese and a Japanese star is a promising combo. The film made its double bow in Venice and Toronto on the strength of Woo’s festival reputation, and now it’s up to Hong Kong production and distribution house Media Asia to see how much mileage can be extracted at the box office. Casually mixed dialogue in Japanese, Mandarin and English points to a trans-Asian release.
A logic-free story neutralizes Woo’s signature action scenes.
The story, such as it is, is based on a novel by Juko Nishimura. With most of the action set in Osaka, the feeling is more Japanese exotica than Chinese hard-boiled. The opener could have come from a Tarantino film. A Chinese stranger (Zhang Hanyu from Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall) with sad eyes wanders into a traditional teahouse near the sea and asks for a drink. A waitress (Woo’s daughter Angeles Woo) tells him they’re closed, but pretty barmaid Rain (South Korean actress Ha Ji-won) exchanges a few lines with him about movie classics that get a laugh. When a rough crowd barges into the teahouse, the stranger takes his leave. We think the girls are going to be seriously abused by the men until they whip off their kimonos and pull out automatic weapons, mowing down their guests with perfectly timed and choreographed mayhem. It’s not the last time we will see these ice-cool pros.
The stranger is revealed to be Du Qiu, a brilliant Chinese attorney who has won key cases for the Tenjin Pharmaceutical company. At a swanky party feting the retirement of company prexy Sakai (Jun Kunimura of Kill Bill fame), who’s stepping down to let his son take over, Du announces he is leaving to go back to China. Sakai urges the lawyer to reconsider and stay with them, his raised eyebrows signaling that he’s not taking no for an answer. The inference is that Du knows too many company secrets.
At the party, Du is much taken with a Chinese woman wearing a qipao dress (Qi Wei, aka Stephy Qi) who flirts but lets him go home alone. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s in his bed beside the cadaver of a beautiful woman he has never seen before, and his fingerprints are on the kitchen knife.
Enter the Japanese police force, a rather bumbling crew led by the brilliant young Inspector Yamura, played by Masaharu Fukuyama, who was just seen as the unflappable attorney in Kore-eda’s thriller The Third Murder. They give poor perplexed Du just enough time to escape before they arrest or possibly shoot him. While Du is outrunning them through the subway system, Yamura chances upon two terrorists who have kidnapped a cute little boy and tied him up with explosives — a scene, to say the least, out of nowhere. The tension it generates is hardly worth the trouble.
Even when Yamura gets back on Du’s track, the chase scenes have to be reinforced with blazing guns by the two hit women, who have been instructed to bump off Du. (Because of their brief exchange about classic movies at the beginning of the film, Rain has a hard time pulling the trigger.) At this point the inspector begins to suspect Du might be innocent after all.
It’s the kind of cartoonish film where, no matter the odds and how many bullets are flying at our heroes, they never get seriously injured. Everyone else dies. A shoot-out at a country house offers the occasion for a free-for-all with horses, motorcycles and guns, and a chase on the waterfront turns into an exciting jet ski pursuit that is one of the film’s imaginative highlights.
There are plenty of film citations to pick and choose from. Du’s qipao woman is out for revenge for her husband, who died on the day of their wedding, and everybody left ends up in a mad scientist’s laboratory where a drug is being prepared to create soldiers of superhuman strength who feel no pain, “for the benefit of mankind.”
Production values are lavish, and some of the metallic sets designed by Yohei Taneda have the complexity of an Escher puzzle. Takuro Ishizaka’s lighting gives even the silly final scenes a visually exciting veneer.
Production company: Media Asia Film Production Ltd.
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ha Ji-won, Jun Kunimura, Angeles Woo
Director: John Woo
Screenwriters: Gordon Chan, Chan Hing Kai, James Yuen, Itaru Era, Ho Miu Ki, Marla Wong, Sophie Yeh based on the book by Juko Nishimura
Producers: Gordon Chang, Chan Hing Kai
Executive producers: Peter Lam, La Peikang
Director of photography: Takuro Ishizaka
Production designer: Yohei Taneda
Editor: Lee Ka Wah
Music: Taro Iwashiro
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival, Venice Film Festival
Sales: Media Asia