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Original title: Zhui bu

D: John Woo / 109m

Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ji-won Ha, Jun Kunimura, Angeles Woo, Nanami Sakuraba, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Tao Okamoto, Kuniharu Tokunaga

Du Qiu (Zhang) is a Chinese lawyer whose work for Tenjin Pharmaceuticals in Osaka has made him successful and widely admired. At a party to celebrate Tenjin’s intention to launch a new drug on the market, Du is approached by a young woman, Mayumi (Qi), who wants to discuss a trial he won on Tenjin’s behalf three years before. They spend some time together before Du goes home. When he wakes the next morning, it’s to find the dead body of a woman in bed beside him. He calls the police, and Inspector Asano (Tokunaga) arrives. With evidence pointing to Du being the killer, Asano arrests him, but as they leave his apartment building, Asano makes it look as if Du has killed another officer while escaping. On the run, Du tries to stay one step ahead of the police, while trying to find out who’s framed him. Another detective, Inspector Yamura (Fukuyama), is also assigned to the case, and the more he investigates, the more he too begins to believe that Du was framed…

Made as a tribute to the late Ken Takakura, who starred in the 1976 original version, Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare (itself adapted from the novel by Juko Nishimura), Manhunt sees action auteur John Woo return to the style of movie making that made him famous back in the late Eighties and early Nineties. With its typically kinetic action sequences, and blistering bursts of gunfire, the movie acts like a compendium of Woo’s greatest hits as a director, with nods to Hard Boiled (1992), A Better Tomorrow (1986), and The Killer (1989) – which Woo will be remaking soon in an English language version. There’s plenty of slo-mo gunfire, explosions, guns being fired while people spin in mid-air, glass shattering at every turn, extended bouts of chaos, vehicular destruction (on land, on water, and in houses), and bone crunching fight scenes. There’s also the usual themes around identity, trust, honour, and respect; romantic elements that grow as the movie progresses; several moments of otherwise silly and unnecessary humour; and, of course, doves. For fans of the director who has given us at least five bona fide action classics, but whose more recent output hasn’t brought him the attention he deserves (though Red Cliff (2008-09) is superb), this is like welcoming back an old friend who’s been away too long.

That said, the storyline isn’t exactly original, and some of the newer material struggles for relevance (Tenjin doesn’t exist in the original version, and its making a weaponised designer drug strains credulity at every turn). It does all tie together, though the presence of Ha and Woo as assassins, and orphaned sisters to boot, feels like one sub-plot too many, while the ease with which Du gets around suggests a background as a spy rather than a lawyer. It’s all very melodramatic and giddily over the top, but with Woo the movie is also in safe hands. No matter how absurd it gets, Woo is there to bolster things with another expertly choreographed and executed action sequence, with more blood squibs going off than you can count in any one scene. Away from Woo’s trademark balletic violence, the movie is breathtakingly shot by DoP Takuta Ishizaka, and Yohei Taneda’s impressive production design provides the perfect backdrop for all the mayhem. If there’s one area where the movie feels like it’s been let down, it’s in the performances, but this isn’t because the cast are uniformly bad – they’re not – it’s simply because their characters aren’t given enough room to develop.

Rating: 7/10 – with its turgid narrative and unremarkable characters, Manhunt is disappointing on a basic movie making level, but with Woo in the director’s chair, it’s a also a movie that often transcends those issues and makes you forget about them; not, overall, one of Woo’s absolute best, but successful enough to remind audiences that he still knows what he’s doing when it comes to action.

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