John Woo’s first contemporary action film produced in Asia for more than 20 years falls woefully short of the director’s best work. Shot entirely in Japan with a mostly local crew, Man Hunt pairs Zhang Hanyu and Masaharu Fukuyama as reluctant allies in a corporate conspiracy thriller involving an Osakan pharmaceutical giant.
The heavyweight international cast, which also includes Jun Kunimura and South Korean actress Ha Ji-won, are forced to communicate in English for large portions of the film, which only accentuates an unintentionally hilarious script from no less than seven credited writers. Shot in a flat, lifeless fashion, Man Hunt often resembles a made-for-television pastiche of Woo’s style, edited so sloppily that even the film’s best action sequences are rendered dull and incoherent.
Zhang Hanyu (Taking of Tiger Mountain, Operation Mekong) plays Du Qiu, a hot-shot corporate lawyer working for Jun Kunimura’s Tenjin Pharmaceuticals in Osaka. Mere hours after announcing he is leaving the company, Du is framed for the murder of a beautiful party girl (The Wolverine’s Tao Okamoto). Determined to clear his name and expose the truth, Du escapes police custody and goes on the run, allying himself with the mysterious Mayumi (Qi Wei).
On his tail is Detective Satoshi Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama from Like Father, Like Son), an unhinged cop with something of a death wish. Forced to bring a fresh-faced partner along for the ride (Nanami Sakuraba), Yamura’s investigation soon leads him to believe that Du is merely collateral damage in a larger corporate conspiracy. But Yamura is not the only one after Du. A pair of deadly female assassins, Dawn (the director's daughter Angeles Woo) and Rain (Ha Ji-won), are also gunning for the fugitive, even though Rain has mixed feelings for the lawyer she met years earlier.
Adapted from Juko Nishimura’s novel You Must Cross the River of Wrath, which previously inspired the 1976 film Hot Pursuit starring Ken Takakura, Man Hunt should have marked Woo’s glorious return to familiar territory. The 70-year-old director built an impressive international reputation as an action pioneer with films like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer, before leaving Hong Kong for Hollywood.
Since then, Woo’s output has been mixed, peaking with 1997’s Face/Off. Woo returned to Asia, where he delivered a pair of ambitious two-part Chinese epics, Red Cliff and The Crossing, which received mixed receptions critically and commercially. Man Hunt marks the first time Woo has directed a contemporary Asian film since 1992’s Hard Boiled - regarded by many as his best film - but in the 25 years since, it appears Woo has lost his flair for staging balletic, innovative action.
A mess of poorly conceived ideas, ludicrous plot developments and risible dialogue, Man Hunt starts poorly and never recovers. Familiar Woo motifs, including doves - oh so many doves - flamboyant gunplay and themes of loyalty and brotherhood are inserted as if to compensate for the film’s marked lack of artistic flair. Narrative cul-de-sacs and a blatant lack of coverage are papered over using freeze frames and ADR, as the film builds to a climax so preposterously contrived and out of left field, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had dozed off and woken up in a different movie.
The performances are never given the space to evolve into more than marionettes for the out-of-control narrative, while the dialogue proves an unnecessary hinderance for all concerned. Action sequences are never more than competent, either in their conception or execution, while the climactic gunfight delivers little more than a chaotic blizzard of bullets and bad guys. Only Taro Iwashiro’s score can conjure up anything resembling the mood of Woo’s past successes.
There is no pleasure to be gleaned from witnessing the fall of a great artist, but it is almost impossible to conceive of John Woo ever directing another great action movie. Man Hunt is so far removed from the man’s best work it will have fans pining for the relative glory days of Paycheck.
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