John Woo was once considered the master of action cinema, dominating the action landscape throughout the 1980s and 1990s with hyperbolic, bloody, bullet-riddled spectaculars. In his native China, he helmed classics like The Killer, Hard Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow. In America, he raked in enormous box office numbers with overblown-slash-awesome popcorn explosions like Face/Off, Hard Target, and Mission: Impossible 2. After the dismal Paycheck, Woo returned to China, and turned his attention to historical epics like Red Cliff and The Crossing, both of which run over four hours apiece.
Right at the beginning of Woo’s new film Manhunt, now available on Netflix, the protagonist – a Chinese lawyer named Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) vacationing in Japan – has a conversation with a waitress about how much better old movies used to be, and about how all the new films are too long. Woo, it seems, has a need to wistfully recall – and celebrate – his own filmography, looking back to his glory, possessed by a halcyon pang to recreate the slow-motion bullets and boxes of doves that had become his signature. The brash bloody action that immediately follows Manhunt’s opening– and continues entertainingly apace throughout the span of the film – feels comfortably retro. It’s all blood packs and stuntmen instead of CGI. We haven’t seen mid-budget Chinese action schlock quite this slick for at least 20 years.