Review: Manhunt

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Originally reviewed at TIFF 2017, MANHUNT debuts on Netflix today! 

PLOT: A Chinese lawyer (Zhang Hanyu) working for a Japanese pharmaceutical company in Osaka, is framed for murder, and must clear his name, all the while being chased by a pair of assassins and a dogged cop (Masaharu Fukuyama).

REVIEW: MANHUNT is director John Woo’s long-awaited return to hardcore action, after several years dedicated to epic historical melodramas, like RED CLIFF and THE CROSSING. Given his stature, many have already defended this as cheeky self-parody, but that’s optimistic and wrong, especially if you know Woo’s filmography. This is Woo being sincere, but it’s also a depressing testament to the fact that his heroic bloodshed past will be not easily revisited, with this an ambitious, sprawling mess.

I say all this as someone who’ll go on-record saying his 1986-1997 run as an action auteur is spectacular. From A BETTER TOMORROW through THE KILLER, HARD-BOILED and FACE/OFF, Woo, for a time, was the greatest action director on the planet. Even not-so-great entries like ONCE A THIEF and HARD TARGET had moments of pure inspiration. MANHUNT lacks that feeling on all fronts, with only a single good action set-piece towards the middle, and a gonzo finale having flashes of the old master.

A loose remake of an old Ken Takakura movie, Chinese superstar Zhang Hanyu and Japanese actor Masaharu Fukuyama are the leads, and Woo, with his constant use of freeze frames and white birds, tries hard to make you think they’re as cool as Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung. They’re not, although both are badly cast in parts that demand they speak much of their dialogue in English, a language neither of them seem to have much command over, with their recital painfully phonetic. Why bother? If it had been written in a way to minimize the English, both would have come off fine, with Fukuyama occasionally cool as a cop seemingly patterned on Chow’s Tequila.

Chow Yun-Fat’s absence is not the only thing felt. Terence Chang, for the first time since THE KILLER, isn’t on-board as Woo’s producer, and the film clearly suffers from his lack of input, with the first half especially bad. Woo overdoes his Sam Peckinpah freeze frames (let’s not forget, even Peckinpah ended his career directing Julian Lennon music videos), and worse, covers the film in a dreadful smooth jazz score, complete with steel drums, and raunchy sax solos that sound lifted from a Cinemax erotic thriller from the nineties.

On a purely technical level, MANHUNT is a mess, with choppy editing and poor VFX, although a lack of resources doesn’t seem to have been a problem, with the third act launching into an out-of-nowhere sci-fi twist that sees characters turn into virtual super-killers after being injected with a Marvel-like super-serum.

It’s all pretty awful, with only one really good action scene in the middle of the film, with the handcuffed Hanyu and Fukuyama facing off with an army of assassins making this worth watching. Here, Woo actually shows some flashes of his past glory, with tons of bullets flying, and even some A BETTER TOMORROW 2-style sword play, but it’s a brief digression. Before long, the film returns to being abysmal, with poorly thought-out references to his earlier work, such as a line of dialogue calling for A BETTER TOMORROW, and a jet-ski chase reminiscent of the FACE/OFF finale reminding us how poorly this fares in comparison. Woo can probably still direct a hell of an action film if properly supported, but this is cringe-worthy.

Review: Manhunt




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.