Awkward actioner seems an imitation of Woo's best works

(From left) Tao Okamoto, Ha Ji-Won, Zhang Hanyu, director John Woo, Qi Wei and Angeles Woo attend the photocall of the movie Zhuibu (Manhunt) at the 74th Venice Film Festival.
(From left) Tao Okamoto, Ha Ji-Won, Zhang Hanyu, director John Woo, Qi Wei and Angeles Woo attend the photocall of the movie Zhuibu (Manhunt) at the 74th Venice Film Festival. PHOTO: AFP

The story: Chinese lawyer Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) goes on the run after getting framed for murder. He tries to clear his name, but that proves difficult with relentless police detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama), as well as two female assassins (Ha Ji Won and Angeles Woo), hot on his tail.

This film marks Hong Kong auteur John Woo's return to his action movie roots, but it is hardly a return to form.

Perhaps overly excited at the prospect of working on the genre that made him famous before he switched to melodramatic period epics, he crams so much into this movie that the action is not only difficult to follow, but also becomes numbingly blase.

All his trademark action movie touches are here - the white doves, the slow-motion sequences, the sideway gun shots.

At the end of the film, one character even blurts out his hope for "a better tomorrow", a clear nod to his beloved 1986 thriller of that name starring Hong Kong's Chow Yun Fat.

But the references are all so glaringly obvious that the film borders on parody, except it is never smart or funny enough.

Instead, the film feels like an earnest imitation of his best works, in the vein of tribute bands - similar, but not quite the same.

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The issue here may be that this is not entirely a Woo vehicle, despite how it is marketed.

There are seven writers credited for the screenplay and one can only imagine the type of influence that movie executives on a big-budget, regional co-production such as this would try to wield on set.

It is the same problem that has plagued several of his more recent films, such as The Crossing (2014), starring South Korea's Song Hye Kyo, China's Zhang Ziyi and Japan's Takeshi Kaneshiro. Commercial pressures to meet the different market requirements of the various countries turned that film into a bizarre pan-Asian mess.

Here, too, the international A-list cast is a setback. The actors deliver solid performances, to be sure - South Korean actress Ha Ji Won is especially seductive as sexy female assassin Rain - but they are also limited by their language abilities.

The dialogues sound unnatural, with Japanese actor Fukuyama's overly enunciated English being particularly awkward.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Awkward actioner seems an imitation of Woo's best works'. Print Edition | Subscribe