'Manhunt' Review: Back To The Basics For John Woo, But Not A Return To Form [TIFF]

John Woo made a career creating operatic, ultra-violent crime films peppered with shoot-outs, stand-offs, morally ambiguous characters, and lots and lots of slow-motion doves. Woo eventually made the leap from Hong Kong cinema to Hollywood and created one of the greatest action movies of all time, Face/Off. But Woo's Hollywood adventure was never truly able to rise above the joys of that film, and the filmmaker returned to Hong Kong.Woo's latest film, the Chinese-Hong Kong production Manhunt, is being heralded (by people who are paid to promote the film) as a return to form, supposedly recalling his classics like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer. Well, don't believe the hype.That's not to say Manhunt is a waste of time. Indeed, the film, which debuted at the Toronto International Film FestivalĀ on Thursday night to a packed, charged audience, is often so gloriously silly that you can't help but fall in love with it.Sort of.Woo still manages to stage brilliant, exciting action sequences, but they're sandwiched in between a plot that grows more and more ludicrous with each passing moment. It's clear that Woo is going for heightened melodrama, and often even intentional comedy. It just doesn't always work.Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is a lawyer for a shady pharmaceutical company who wakes up one morning and finds a dead woman in his bed. He's clearly being framed, but that knowledge won't keep the cops from chasing after him. One of those cops is Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama), a no-nonsense, super-cool investigator who starts to believe that Du Qiu may indeed be innocent, not that that'll stop him from doing his job and catching him.If this plot sounds sort of familiar, it's because this is almost exactly the same storyline as The Fugitive, right down to the pharmaceutical company connection. But Manhunt goes off down its own wild roads, introducing a pair of female assassins, a widow who can provide an alibi for Du Qiu if she can get over her hatred for him, and a drug that can turn people into hulking superhuman monsters. It's downright goofy, but at leastĀ Manhunt is in on the joke.

Manhunt comes to life during the action beats, and Woo manages to pack in more memorable scenes than most Hollywood action films would ever dare: a jet ski chase; several car chases; a herd of motorcyclists firing machine guns riding alongside galloping horses. It's fun stuff, but it's never quite enough.Du Qiu is constantly on the run, hoping to clear his name and survive frequent attempts on his life. Yamura doggedly pursues him until the pair are forced to team-up, which leads to the best sequence in the entire film: Du Qiu and Yamura, handcuffed together, engage in a wild shootout in a farmhouse, each man having to rely on the other to get out of the place alive.Woo and editor Lee Ka Wah employ a very distinct storytelling style that at times borders on sloppy; scenes seem to just end and characters have flashbacks to things we just saw minutes ago. It begins to grow distracting, as does the jazz fusion score that blasts over every scene. All of this is deliberate, but it doesn't make it any less unfortunate.Still, it's hard to beat those action scenes. Very few filmmakers shoot action like Woo, and best of all, almost all of it is done practically, with stunt performers. Occasionally, Woo does rely on CGI to enhance an action scene, and these moments end up being far too distracting. Otherwise, whenever Manhunt gives Woo a chance to unleash his own brand of mayhem, you'll be satisfied enough to think that this is almost a really good movie. Almost.And yes, there is a scene with doves in slow-motion. And it rules./Film Rating: 6 out of 10