Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief reviews on festival films, VR previews and other special event launches. This review was originally published after Manhunt's debut at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival . It is relaunched to coincide with the premiere of the movie on Netflix.
It is always possible that John Woo could have interpreted the pigeons directly. The director of Hong Kong behind action classics like Hard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow (and later American action movies including Face / Off and Broken Arrow ) has turned the image of the pigeons flying across the screen during a shootout in a signature trope, suggesting the end of innocence and the coming of chaos. But his latest, Manhunt debuting on Netflix on May 4, has a time when a car approaches a dovecote full of birds ready for their big moment. And that moment does not seem so portentous and tragic, like the sequences of the pigeons in Woo & # 39; s The Killer or Mission: Impossible II . Instead, it reads like a conscious joke for smart audiences, especially when the car rolls around the cage before crashing into it and sending pigeons across the screen.
That's not the only joke in Manhunt : towards the end, a character strikingly reviews Woo's filmography promising "a better tomorrow". Another says goodbye to a friend with a pistol gesture, but holds the gun on one side, in homage to another popular Woo action trope. In a more serious film, these moments could pass as simple winks to the career of Woo and his fandom.
But in the deliberately ridiculous, over-the-top Manhunt are more like sharp elbows on one side, a continuous whispering cry of "See what I did there?" Like many Woo films, Manhunt is well aware of the history of Hong Kong cinema and the visual language of international action films. But he also approaches satire in his ridiculous exploitation of tropes and his conscious visual excesses. Everyone involved seems to be a moment away from winking at the camera. And the plot, which involves super-soldier assassins and the comically evil conglomerate that empowers them, is often equally difficult to take seriously.
What is the genre?
Action, mystery and parody of action. It is a new version of the Japanese thriller of 1976 Manhunt based on a novel by Jukô Nishimura. But the American public will probably see more of a touchstone in the 1963 television series The Fugitive and in its new film version of 1993. All these stories follow the same path, with a man framed for murder and trying to locate the real murderer, while a hard but ultimately sympathetic pursuer.
What is it about?
There are a lot of thread threads that run in Manhunt . In the primary, Chinese lawyer Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is about to leave Osaka after handling a successful lawsuit involving the large family conglomerate Teijin Pharmaceuticals. Then a woman appears dead in her bed, the policeman who comes to arrest him murders another policeman and tries to incriminate him for that death too, and Du Qiu ends up fleeing. Meanwhile, two ruthless assassins, Rain and Dawn, murder a group of criminals. The irritable investigator Yamuna (Masaharu Fukuyama) deals with his bubbly fledgling companion, Rika (Nanami Sakuraba) and his corrupt co-workers. Another plot involves the outcome of Du Qiu's claim, a woman who wants to see him dead as a result, and a secret formula to create unstoppable and bestial soldiers.
But mainly, it's about Du Qiu's quest, which gives Woo many opportunities for hand-to-hand combat, shoot-outs and great chase sequences, including the inevitable through a grand parade, and a much less inevitable and more surprising, one that involves jet skis.
What is it really ?
There is not much subtext here, apart from the vague manual confirmation that big companies and corrupt policemen are bad, and the marginalized and justice are good. And also that jet skis can fly through the air in slow motion if you shoot them enough.
Is it good?
It's pretty funny, but that only goes very far in an action movie. Zhang and Fukuyama declaim their dialogue (mainly English, with a bit of Japanese and Mandarin) with an expressionless force that makes almost everything they say seem exaggerated and slightly ridiculous. Part of that dialogue also seems written expressly for laughter, especially when Yamuna tells Du Qiu: "Believe me, there is only one end for a fugitive: a dead final." The suggested emotions are large, broad, and exaggerated, but the clues express those emotions with an exaggeratedly serious version of an unyielding male. The action is similarly direct in a derisory way: when that watercraft flies over Yamuna's head, it passes in slow motion, dragging the CGI water in a ballet choreography that is charming and hilariously excessive at the same time.  But as with other genre skits like Shoot & # 39; Em Up and Drive Angry the focus is more does not provide many real bets for the characters, more there the momentary question of how a determined persecution will turn out. Woo's action sequences, always the heart of his films, are at their best in Manhunt when he keeps them small and focused. A fistfight between Du Qiu and Yamuna in a moving car, which keeps tacking to the edge of a cliff while fighting for control, keeps the personal scale and choreography clear. A subsequent battle allows Woo to perform some exclusive moves, including fighters firing violently while sliding down a flight of stairs, but it also becomes exasperatingly chaotic and meaningless. Half of the participants are masked assassins who came out of nowhere to take a big dip and get shot, and virtually everyone else has argument immunity. The small handful of great acrobatics, including a moment in which Du Qiu and Yamuna, handcuffed together, smoothly coordinate the reloading and firing of a single gun with unused hands, does not fully justify the pile of anonymous bodies and lacking interest.
Manhunt feels like a prolonged trick in Woo's career, and in the audience, it's as if he's laughing at the action fans for what they traditionally consider impressive. The fact that he is in the joke, and that some of the jokes are on his own, makes the movie go smoothly. But it could easily have happened with half the characters, half the chases and a strict limit of just, say, two dozen people flying through glass windows without any particular justification.