There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Hong Kong film-maker John Woo’s latest film Manhunt, which stars Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu, Japanese actor Masaharu Fukuyama, South Korean actress Ha Ji Won and Woo’s daughter Angeles. The film marks his long-awaited return to the action genre, and features female assassins, a first for the director’s movies.
Woo was behind a number of what many consider to be iconic action films in the Hong Kong film canon, from A Better Tomorrow (1986) to The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992).
The idea of updating things applies in more ways than one, he adds, as the film is a remake of the classic 1976 Japanese actioner of the same name.
Manhunt, which opened in Singapore cinemas yesterday (Nov 23), offers a similar storyline as the original, except that the man on the run (Zhang Hanyu) is framed for murder instead of corruption. Hot on his heels is Japanese police detective Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama).
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Woo also created new characters such as Rain and Dawn, a pair of female assassins played respectively by Ha Ji Won and Angeles Woo .
Says Woo to The Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur: “I wanted to add a deeper emotional aspect to the movie and these characters provide that. Rain and Dawn are great friends, so there is a level of intimacy between them.
“Rain is hired to kill the main guy, but she is torn because she starts to develop feelings for him. There is a sense of tragedy there.”
This is the first time John Woo has included gun-toting female killers in his films. But lest anyone think that he demands less of his actresses in action scenes, he says with a grin: “I treated Ha Ji Won like she was Chow Yun Fat. And she really delivered.”
Given the international cast, the question of language problems on set arises. But Woo says the cast members did not need to speak much with one another to work well together. “There were a few interpreters on set, but they were never necessary. I think the actors understood their characters as well as the script so well, they just went straight to work.
“I don’t believe in having rehearsals because I prefer to just go ahead and shoot, and they all had no problems giving me exactly what I wanted. They were all true professionals.”
Perhaps, little verbal communication was needed also because the observant director was able to take mental notes of each actor’s personality. Before shooting began, he had dinner with the main cast members and quietly watched them eat.
“I wanted to see the expressions in their eyes, the way their hands moved and how long their fingers were, so that I could determine the type of guns they would use in the film. I care about all my cast members very much, so I won’t want them to look bad. We’re shooting an action movie, but it can be stylish too, right?”
The director says that all his signature action moments are in Manhunt – although he had not initially thought of including them. He says with a grin: “Anyone who is familiar with my action films will recognise certain aspects about my new movie Manhunt that reflect my old film-making style.
“Manhunt has a dual gun shoot-out scene, but it’ll feel different from what you’ve seen me do before. This time, rather than have one man hold two guns, I designed it so that two men are handcuffed together and forced to shoot with their free hands.
“It will feel fresh,” he adds.
Text: Yip Wai Yee, The Straits Times/ Photos: Golden Village Pictures