Manhunt movie review: John Woo's Netflix offering is a homage to '90s action films stuck in the bygone era
The term ‘potboiler’ has virtually disappeared from the glossary of modern day cinema. There used to be a time when it used to rule the world of movies. With action, comedy, romance, music, dance, sex and a torrent of tears thrown in at the climax, the good guy always used to win and the bad guy used to be brought to justice, either in this world or the one beyond, but not before someone on the righteous side has breathed his or her last, preferably in the arms of the hero. Director John Woo used to be the uncrowned master of the genre in '80s and '90s cinema, and I was really looking forward to his return to the scene with his new film Manhunt – an adaptation of a Japanese novel by Juko Nishimura, and a remake of the 1976 film adaptation of the same name. But I must say I was thoroughly disappointed, for reasons stated later in this review.
True to the genre, the plot of the movie is fairly complex, and you will find a lot happening within a short period of time. A Chinese lawyer named Du Qiu has won many litigations for a Japanese pharmaceutical giant named Tenjin Corporation, but on the night the grand old man of the company Yoshihiro Sakai announces his retirement and appoints his son Hiroshi as the organization’s new President, Du Qiu is framed in the murder of a femme fatale who had been entrusted by Sakai to convince him to stay on in Osaka. Du Qiu is arrested, but when a corrupt police officer creates an avenue for his escape with the ulterior motive of shooting him down, he goes on the run in a bid to save his life. A tough talking Japanese police detective named Yamura, who has lost his wife to a freak hit-and-run accident – gets on the case, with a rookie female cop tagging along with him. Meanwhile, Du Qiu is looking for a mysterious half-Chinese woman named Mayumi, because she is his alibi for the night of the murder. Mayumi, on the other hand, has a backstory. She is looking to avenge the death of her fiancé, who used to be a scientist working for the Tenjin Corporation, and who was falsely accused by Du Qiu with charges of theft.
Confusing, isn’t it? But wait, there is more. Sakai has set two female assassin sisters, conveniently named Rain and Dawn, on the trail of both Du Qiu and Mayumi, because both know his secret – which involves developing an illegal drug that gives superhuman strength to soldiers, maintaining full thought control at the same time. Rain and Dawn had been rescued by Sakai from an orphanage, and trained to become deadly killers. So now, everyone is looking for everyone else. The lawyer is looking for the mysterious woman, who is looking for him, in turn. The cop is looking for the lawyer, the assassins are looking for the lawyer too, but one of them changes her mind about her target because of an utterly ridiculous reason conveniently thrown into the pot right in the opening scene of the film. The entire thing becomes so ridiculous at one point that you feel like you are just a helpless bystander watching the world go by.
What hurt my expectations the most was the action – the one thing that John Woo is known for. The fight choreography is too '90s for my taste and unlike such masters of the genre as George Miller, who has completely revamped the Mad Max franchise to keep up with changing times, Woo seems to be stuck with the same old Nicholas Cage and Bruce Willis sort of action sequences from the '90s. Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of treatment but one must admit that it looks good only within the context. It just did not work for me in this day and age.
The performances too are rather childish, with several characters breaking into English every now and then, for no apparent reason at all – that too with an accent that sounds corny. In the action scenes, Masahuru Fukuyama, the man playing the cop, acts and walks with a swag that would put both Govinda, Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh to shame. You have to see it to believe it. In comparison, Zhang Hanyu, who plays the fugitive Chinese lawyer, is more reserved – but that is not saying much. There is an abundance of tearjerker scenes, complete with a neatly preserved bloodstained bridal gown from a wedding that never happened, and with an assassin dying in the arms of her target, mouthing her last line (I kid you not) – ‘Old movies often used to end this way!’ Well, boo-hoo!'
The background score does not strike a chord but one must admit that there are some pretty good outdoor scenes, especially of suburban Osaka. The colour palette used in these scenes come as a welcome relief from – well – everything else.
Woo must perhaps reconcile with the fact that these are not the old times anymore and unless he wants to pay homage to the genre, this style of filmmaking just would not work. And even a homage must feel like a homage. Anything short of that will be shot down.
Manhunt is currently streaming on Netflix.
Updated Date: May 08, 2018 15:22 PM