Netflixable? John Woo in winter still brings epic fights, in “ManHunt”

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The faithful know what’s coming.

Epic shootouts, sword-fighting set-pieces, the old “ultra violence,” ballets with bullets, Sam Peckinpah slo-mo for “the cool bits,” sacrifice, a little opera, a little jazz, tough guys acting tough to each other, tender to the womenfolk, always hoping for “A Better Tomorrow.”

And doves. White doves. A little Christian symbolism in the middle of the mayhem.

The great Hong Kong action director John Woo hasn’t seemed as active in recent years, turning out period epics intended for the Chinese market (“Red Cliff,” “The Crossing”). But at 71, he shows he’s still got those “Killer/Hard Boiled” gangster chops for Netflix with “ManHunt,” a Sino-Japanese thriller with a silly plot, vintage Woo fights and a lot of blood.

It’s a messy mixed-bag movie built around the “Lucy” plot (a secret superdrug that makes its users super-soldiers, psychotic killers whose pain threshold is through the roof). But it’s John Woo. We love John Woo. You can’t be an action film fan and not want to see it.

And on Netflix, you can start and stop and rewatch “the cool bits” over and over. Laugh when the heroes — a fugitive lawyer (Zhang Hanyu) and flinty cop (Masaharu Fukuyama) — are lashed together with handcuffs, chase each other and brawl over Jetskis (Or are they SeaDoos?) as they flea corrupt cops and biker assassin babes all over scenic Japan. 

Qui Du (Zhang) is a Chinese-based fixer/lawyer for Tenjin Pharmaceuticals who wakes up after a corporate party in dead with a dead woman. The cops are there in a flash, and as they do in bad movies, they tell Qui Du he’s about to die in a set up. Which gives him the chance to escape, the first of many.

Woo escalates these chase scenes from a sprint through crowded streets and subway tunnels, to a Mini Cooper, Jetskis (or SeaDoos) and so on. What, no planes?

Inspector Yamura (Fukuyama) is the brooding, tough-talking detective who on the very day Qui Du escapes, is breaking in a too-young/too-cute sidekick (Nanami Sakuraba), who smiles up to the point where some murderous punks take her hostage.

“You can’t go anywhere with that idiot,” Yamura growls to the villains. “It’s her first day. Give her a break!”

Yamura gets most of the best lines here, delivered in Japanese in a neo-Mijune growl.  He’s hurled into the hunt for Qui Du, tracks him down repeatedly and somehow lets him go. Repeatedly.

“There’s only one end for a fugitive! A DEAD end!”

Qui Du must evade capture so that he can figure out the real killer, get to the Tenjin boss (Jun Kunimura) and find out what’s going on. 

His deadliest and most persistent pursuers are straight out of a James Bond movie — sister assassins Rain and Dawn, played with pistol-packing verve by Ji-won Ha and Angeles Woo (Yes, she’s Woo’s daughter. Cinema nepotism knows no borders). 

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Qui Du’s most fascinating encounter is with a group of Japanese hobos and the sage Sakaguchi (veteran Japanese martial arts movie star Yasuaki Kurata). Yes, there are still Japanese hobos.

The picture is all over the place, with many many actors, many plot threads and characters switching from Japanese to Chinese to hard-boiled English in a flash.

But John Woo knows pacing, knows how to keep a movie on its feet and hurtling forward, and damned if “ManHunt” doesn’t manage that, flaws and failings and all.

It’s not one of his best, not on a par with “A Better Tomorrow,” “The Killer” or his Hollywood debut, the Van Damme Cajun kill-off “Hard Target.” But hey, it’s John Woo. Even his failures are more interesting than this week’s Hollywood genre actioner directed by this or that no name film school alumnus.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence and lots of it, drug abuse, sexual situations

Cast:Hanyu ZhangMasaharu Fukuyama, Ji-won Ha, Angeles WooNanami SakurabaJi-won Ha, Angeles Woo

Credits: Written and directed by John Woo, based on the Jukô Nishimura novel. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:46

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