Lower your expectations for John Woo's new Netflix film Manhunt: EW Review
If you’re a longtime fan of the Hong Kong action maestro John Woo, you’ll probably be disappointed by his latest film. And if you’re coming to the director’s work for the first time, you might wonder what all the fuss has been about. Sigh.
Manhunt, which arrives on Netflix on May 4, is nothing more and nothing less than a so-so thriller with brief flashes of the giddy, bullet-riddled mayhem that Woo turned into a balletic form of pop art back in the ‘80s and ‘90s in such movies as A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hardboiled. But mostly it just serves as a slightly depressing reminder of past glories that now seem beyond his grasp.
Once heralded as Hollywood’s next great hope when he arrived in America in 1993 to direct Hard Target (better remembered as “the Jean-Claude Van Damme film in Cajun country”), followed by the decidedly mediocre Broken Arrow, the deliriously bonkers Face/Off, and the dizzyingly baroque Mission: Impossible II, Woo has been in a slump for a while now. His disciples have now eclipsed him; his patrons at the studios have given up on him. In other words, it was high time for a comeback. But Manhunt isn’t quite that.
Rather than a return to form, the movie feels like a reproduction that any Woo scholar would instantly point to as a fake. A passable, self-parodying riff on the 1993 Harrison Ford-Tommy Lee Jones thriller The Fugitive, Manhunt stars Zhang Hanyu as Du Qiu — a Chinese lawyer working for a giant pharmaceutical conglomerate in Osaka who’s set up for the murder of a prostitute and goes on the run to clear his name. On his tail is Fukuyama Masaharu’s Detective Yamura — the sort of sixth-sense sleuth who can walk into a crime scene, take one look, and instantly read it as easily as a children’s book.
The film’s twisty cat-and-mouse plot gives Woo a wide enough canvas upon which to paint his signature themes and obsessions (slow-motion shoot-outs, soap opera backstories, Kenny G-style soft jazz, and white doves — so many white doves!). There’s even a jet ski chase. But none of it adds up to much. The dialogue, often delivered in distractingly spotty English, is curious when it’s not utterly preposterous (sample line: “There’s only one end for a fugitive…a dead end.”). Still, there are enough glimpses of the old master peeking through that it’s hard not to have a bit of a good time. It turns out that even second-rate (okay, third-rate) Woo has its moments. B-