• [The Daily] Venice + Toronto 2017: John Woo’s Manhunt

    By David Hudson

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    “Brace yourselves,” warns Leonardo Goi, writing for Cinema Scope: “after the American sojourn that brought the likes of Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2 and a detour into Chinese historical-blockbuster mode with Red Cliff, John Woo has returned to the Asian police thrillers which earned him global fame with the hilarious, all-out-bonkers and thoroughly enjoyable Manhunt.

    “I had a blast with this cartwheeling medley from the Hong Kong action veteran, which of course exudes its own musicality,” writes Fernando F. Croce. “Woo’s love of cinematic movement—the promiscuous use of dissolves, over-cranking, freeze-frames—is in full sway, so that a brush with a pair of restaurant hostesses leaves space stretched and the senses whirring long before they doff their silk robes and lead a massacre with a pistol in each hand. The plot begins with a man wrongly accused of murder and ends with pharmaceutical skulduggery and outsized showdowns, which is to say it’s set up as The 39 Steps and mutates into something like Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. It’s the kind of mad bonanza in which adorable tykes are tied to huge chemical trucks rigged with explosions, a character’s backstory plays like a blood-soaked spoof of Miss Havisham’s bridal dress, and just one of the director’s trademark doves won’t do when he can release a whole aviary.”

    Also in the Notebook, Kelley Dong: “Above all else, Manhunt pulsates with Woo's signature touch of sincerity, presented with a sweet sense of humor most evident in the film's iconoclastic editing by Lee Ka Wah, who expands each frame's dimensions with a never-ending marathon of cross-fades, fade-to-blacks, and freeze frames. Many times they are deployed all at once. Through their fusion, Manhunt introduces some of the most moving yet challenging moments of cinema (sometimes lasting just a few seconds) that I have seen this year.”

    For Jessica Kiang, though, writing for Variety, “ it’s a kind of a John Woo Pinterest board, a kitschily self-referential mash-up of the Woo-hoopla he perfected during his decade-long reign of balletic, batshit mayhem between 1986’s A Better Tomorrow and 1997’s Face/Off. As awesome as that sounds, and sometimes is, Manhunt is sadly more pastiche than homage, especially during those moments between action setpieces where stick-figure characters say things like, ‘It’s like in those old classic films!’ ‘You like old classic films?’ ‘I love old classic films!’ ‘Wait, I have a DVD of an old classic film in my car, let me get it for you.’ . . . However much fun the film’s high points may afford, there is also something faintly depressing about seeing a once-inventive filmmaker plunder his own legacy for easy props.”

    “If the script defies you to take it seriously,” writes Jonathan Romney for Screen, “there’s no messing about with the superbly choreographed action, which takes in a motorbike raid on a country mansion, a speedboat chase through Osaka, a clifftop collision with—what else?—a dovecot and a climactic showdown in a pharmaceutical lab that’s this film’s equivalent of the traditional Bond villain lair. Younger fans of the modern actioner may find Manhunt a little old-school, especially in its unabashed romantic heart and flag-waving for the square-jawed good guys. But it’s breezy, handsomely mounted fun that shows that Woo has lost neither his mojo nor his sense of poetry.”

    C. J. Prince sets it up for us at the Film Stage: “Taking place entirely in Japan, Woo’s film follows hotshot Chinese lawyer Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu), who works for a major pharmaceutical company in Osaka. He’s about to leave for a new job in the States, but pharmaceutical head Sakai (Jun Kunimura) insists he stays, given Du Qiu’s knowledge of the company’s more sinister practices. Cut to the next morning, where Du Qiu finds himself waking up next to a dead body and the police arresting him for murder. It’s a clear set-up, and Du Qiu manages to escape the cops, but soon he’s pursued by the unstoppable detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama). Du Qiu’s quest to clear his name, and Yamura’s attempts to track him down, trigger a ridiculous, epic journey for the ages, involving a pair of female assassins, a vengeful widow, super human serums, and whatever else the film’s seven (!) writers could cram into two hours.”

    “It’s a dozen movies thrown into a blender, but Woo didn’t hit puree long enough,” finds Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “It’s too chunky.”

    Interviews with Woo: Patrick Frater (Variety) and Zhuo-Ning Su (Film Stage).

    Updates, 9/15:Manhunt is a kind of palimpsest of Asian action movies,” writes David Bordwell. “It’s a remake of a 1978 Takakura Ken movie released to great popularity in China during the 1980s. . . . Woo has turned the Japanese original into a real Hong Kong movie, vintage 1992. It lacks the mournful homoeroticism of his prime-period work . . . Still, it’s very welcome, with its proudly retro air and fanboy in-jokes. It earns the right to begin with a reference to a Japanese classic and conclude with a wink to A Better Tomorrow, as if that movie were the next link in a grand tradition. ‘Old movies always end this way,’ says one of the survivors of the carnage. I wish more new movies did the same.”

    It’s “a thrilling, tongue-in-cheek compendium of the director's best qualities,” finds Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “This kind of masterful self-reflexivity may rub some the wrong way—remember, at the time, the hostility to De Palma’s Femme Fatale and Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. as if they were only Directors' Greatest Hits?—but when done smartly this is no mere masturbation, but a celebration and self-questioning, honed to deft precision, of an artist’s perennial themes.”

    “There are parkour-style action sequences in crowded streets, snipers whose gun barrels emerge from billboard hoardings, cheesy emotional freeze-frames on expressive faces, a jazzy-melancholy sax theme, a scene in the subway which involves actually running on the tracks ahead of the train, and an old-fashioned jet-ski chase down a city river,” enthuses the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “Of course it is a little absurd . . . But this film offers something that is never in sufficiently plentiful supply: fun.”

    “Everyone involved looks like they’re a moment away from outright winking at the camera,” finds Tasha Robinson at the Verge. “It’s pretty hilarious, but that only goes so far in an action movie.”

    In the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young notes that “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.”

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