Script by Lip Wang-Fung, Gordon Chan Ka-Seung, and James Yuen Sai-Sang
Based on the book Kimiyo Funno no Kawa wo Watari by Juko Nishimura
Directed by John Woo
John Woo returns to the world of action cinema to show us that he still….uh…he still can make a movie? With some action scenes? That’s about it, because Manhunt is decisively not in the tradition of classic John Woo action and is more in the tradition of ridiculous scenes wrapped around an overly complicated plot. So basically it’s like a benchwarmer Hong Kong action flick. It isn’t terrible, but it’s like Gordon Ramsey making you waffles and they taste worse than McDonalds. Part of the problem might be that this is a big coproduction between China and NetFlix, packed with a great cast who get parts that are either wasted or follow trajectories that we already know their outcome. Tragically, some of theme don’t even get to ham it up before they buy the farm!
Lawyer Du Qiu (Zhang Han-Yu) , the best lawyer in all of Japan, is leaving his cushy job at a pharmaceutical mega-conglomerate for another position. But the pharmaceutical company is up to no good, and before Du Qiu can move to Bel Air, he’s framed for murder and is on the run! Don’t worry, there is also a super duper detective named Satoshi Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama ), who is hot on Du Qiu’s trail despite figuring out that Du Qiu is innocent and there is a bigger story at play. Hey, he’s still got to do his job! Du Qui and Yamura’s disagreement on whether Du should be sitting in a cell while they sort out what is what causes the crux of a lot of action sequences, as Du Qui manages to escape large police pursuits again and again. Toss in a mysterious woman (Stephy Qi Wei as Mayumi) whose almost husband used to work for the villainous megacorp (and was later killed on their wedding day after losing a big case thanks do Du when he tried to stop what was going on) and Ha Jiwon and John Woo’s daughter Angeles Woo as two female assassins who randomly show up to shoot everyone (when Ha Jiwon and Du aren’t talking about old movies), and you got a film that can’t find its focus. This is before it suddenly goes all Marvel. But more on that is spoiling things…
One of several problems is we are supposed to instantly like Du Qiu because he stops Ha Jiwon from getting harassed at a restaurant she works at. But as she’s secretly an assassin working there to kill the very guys who were harassing her, it doesn’t get the play it should. It gets even worse when we find out he’s a big time lawyer for a pharmaceutical giant and probably destroys sick people constantly in the court system. The detective Satoshi Yamura is much more sympathetic, with an obviously dead wife and sleeping at his desk because if he doesn’t make his job his life he’ll self-destruct (complete with a chief who understands this completely, which was a nice touch) Yamura shows the ropes to a rookie (Nanami Sakuraba as Rika Hyakuta), while also dealing with a rival corrupt detective and the fact that each time Du gets away, Yamura somehow gets blamed even though all the traps are the corrupt detective’s responsibility and Yamura is the only guy who locates Du again and again after each escape. Eventually, they get The Defiant Ones-ed together during a shootout with Mayumi against a bunch of guys on motorcycles. The two people who hate each other and are forced to work together has been done so many other times so much better, at this point the bad versions just make me annoyed.
The best parts aren’t some of the action sequences, but the dialogue. It is 100% pure Hong Kong cinema in origin, with characters making very definitive proclamations during dramatic sequences. As a lot of the characters are from different countries, many of the quotes are spoken in English, which gives them even more of a surreal edge. They make some of the more ridiculous plot things forgivable because it seems torn out of some pulp novel. That also isn’t to say the action scenes are bad, some of them are pretty entertaining, but the majority aren’t much special, sometimes go on far too long and become repetitive, and are often filled with a parade of random goons who appear from nowhere and are quickly killed. If Japan had 30 people show up murdered by gunfire multiple times in a week, the entire country would be in a panic.
Don’t worry, there are pigeons! They even sort of drive the plot, at one point saving each of the two main characters during a choreographed action scene. Almost as if they are the divine intervention of the director influencing the plot. This could have been golden, but they don’t bother with it again despite a very brief appearance of a pigeon once afterwards. I’d fully support the film if it was brave enough to have the pigeons be a message form the action gods.
I wish I had enjoyed this more, in fact I wish I had enjoyed it as much as a guy sitting next to me, where every time there was an action scene he would bounce up and down in his chair excitedly. Sometimes he was more entertaining than the actual scenes. But it is a mess, and according to rumor was once even worse of a mess before the distributors demanded it be recut. So now we got some sort of hybrid vision that satisfies almost no one. Good actors wasted (both Ha Jiwon and Tao Okamoto deserve much better!), good parts shrunk, a ridiculous plot, and chaotic action scenes turn what should be gold into just a pile of straw. Tars says let the cows eat this one! A disappointing end to 2018’s SFIFF, but there is always next year!
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