Thursday, April 12, 2018

SFFILM ’18: Manhunt

Seriously, why didn’t Tenjin Pharmaceuticals just stick to making impotency pills? Instead, they decided to develop a super-soldier drug, because apparently, they have never seen any of the Universal Soldier or Bourne movies. The Japanese firm kept it a secret from their American-educated, Chinese lawyer Du Qiu, but they frame him for murder anyway when he tries to resign as corporate council. Fortunately, the mouthpiece kept in shape, because he is in for a lot of running and fighting in John Woo’s Manhunt (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Considering how many cases Du Qiu won for Tanjin, you would think he would be more fluent in Japanese, but whatever. At least he is an old movie buff, a fact that helped endear him to Rain, a moody and sensitive assassin some months earlier. That chance encounter will be important later. First, Du Qiu chooses the wrong woman to go home with after Tanjin’s gala party announcing Chairman’s Yoshihiro Sakai’s official designation of his son Hiroshi as his successor.

Rather inconveniently, Du Qiu comes to next to the dead body of Kiko Tanaka. Even more discouraging, the initial investigating officer is the blatantly corrupt Mamoru Ito, who forces Du Qiu to escape by shooting a darned unlucky colleague. However, it turns out Du Qiu really has a knack for being a fugitive. Nevertheless, the honest but cynical Det. Satoshi Yamura deliberately lets him slip away many times, because the plot points are just as obvious to him as they are to us. Thanks to all the blind eyes Yamura and his new partner Hyakuta turn, Du Qiu starts to get some answers from Mayumi, the grieving fiancée of Tenjin’s former research director. At this point, Rain and her ambiguous partner Dawn re-enter the picture, to fulfill the contract on his head.

Manhunt is based on Jukô Nishimura novel that presumably made a lot more sense when it was adapted in 1976 with Ken Takakura. Certainly, the earlier film must have had more linguistic cohesion, whereas long stretches of Woo’s version feature Japanese and Chinese characters speaking English with odd syntax, in disembodied sounding voices. There is not much logic to the narrative either. Basically, Tenjin commits random acts of evil, which has to be bad for their bottom line—after all they have to keep two La Femme Nikita-style contract-killers on permanent retainer.

Yes, the screenplay is a mess, but it is still jolly fun to watch Masaharu Fukuyama snarl and brood as the world-weary Det. Yamura. He also develops some rather engaging chemistry with Nanami Sakuraba’s Hyakuuta, who happens to resemble his dearly departed wife, because everyone has to have a tragic backstory in this film. Korean superstar Ha Ji-won and Angeles Woo (daughter of the director) vamp it up nicely as Rain and Dawn. However, as Du Qiu, Zhang Hanyu always looks bored, even when he is running for his life and slipping out for an assignation with the soon-to-be late Tanaka (played by Tao Okamoto from The Wolverine and Batman v. Superman).

Frankly, Manhunt does not have the style or the high gloss of Woo’s best work. However, there is no denying the final action climax is a satisfying maelstrom of blazing guns, smashing batons, and drug-crazed test subjects. This is a minor Woo film, but it is still an idiosyncratic guilty pleasure. Recommended for anyone in the mood for cartoon violence with no real nutritional value, Manhunt screens tomorrow (4/13), as part of this year’s SFFILM.