Venice 2017: John Woo's 'Manhunt' is Instantly Straight-to-VHS Classic
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2017
I haven't seen a movie this instantly straight-to-VHS since VHS died. No, seriously. I don't even know what this movie is. John Woo's latest movie, titled Manhunt, just premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It is technically a remake of a Japanese film titled Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare (1976), which is based on a book by Jukô Nishimura. The first odd thing about it is that the movie is really a Japanese movie made by a Chinese director, starring one Chinese man on the run in Japan. It's set mostly around the city of Osaka. The other odd thing about Manhunt is that it seems like John Woo is parodying John Woo, making an old school John Woo movie that seems to be making fun of John Woo, but it's still a John Woo movie. So, yeah.
Manhunt takes Chinese director John Woo back to his action roots to tell a very incoherent, totally crazy story about a Chinese lawyer, played by Zhang Hanyu, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Japan. One day after a party, he wakes up in a bed next to a dead woman and is framed for her murder. He goes on the run and all kinds of various characters pop up, including a jump-right-into-the-action detective who starts to uncover the truth, various assassins, various members of the pharmaceutical company with good & bad motives, and other police officers. There's really no point in explaining the plot any further, because this movie is not to be watched for the plot. It's pure cheese-fest over-the-top 90's-esque action and not much else. Don't even try to follow the plot, it's not worth it. Just sit back with a giant bag of popcorn and enjoy.
The movie really has everything: shoot outs galore, including one at a wedding; snipers; freeze frames; slo-mo shots aplenty; bad English and even worse dubbing; jet skis; horses; trains; super drugs; badass female assassins; and best of all, an entire action scene involving doves. Of course this has to have doves, I mean, this is a John Woo movie isn't it? But the dove scene is so overblown, so exaggerated, it's hard to tell if Woo is doing this just to make fun of himself and push things even further, or if this is genuinely something he thought would be cool for an action scene. The doves even have a tiny part in the narrative, in the middle of the action scene, and it's totally absurd but still laugh-you-ass-off entertaining. It's hard to fault this film, because I actually do feel like it's aware of this exaggeration and, somehow, seems to be having fun with it.
By the time the movie gets to the final climax, basically where every last character is suddenly together in a big obviously-in-a-warehouse-set with an impending action scene pitting them all against each other, I had completely lost interest in the story. It's hard to care for any of the characters or what they're doing, it's hard to make sense of anything, and then he throws even crazier shit into this final showdown (you'll see what I mean when you watch it). Because, why not. But despite this absurdity, it's still very entertaining. This is one of those movies you find in the back of the video store and rent it to watch late on the weekend with pizza and beer, or popcorn and soda, or whatever your let's-have-stupid-fun food of choice is. This is both a criticism and a compliment, because this film shouldn't exist in 2017, yet here it is. And Woo has delivered.
I don't even know what else to say about Manhunt, it's so totally bonkers and over-the-top and cheesy. The dialogue is atrocious, the plot is incoherent, the acting is painfully obvious, the cinematography is off-putting yet crystal clear, the score by Tarô Iwashiro is straight out of the 90s (and not in a good way). But here's where it counts - the action is totally, completely John Woo. It's insane and defies physics, along with human anatomy, considering gunshots barely wound anyone (or totally destroy them), but it's oh so much fun. The action is not as instant-classic as Woo's early work, but it is a movie you want to own on VHS right away. Just because it exists and defies all odds and is so unlike anything else being made today (obviously).
Alex's Venice 2017 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing