Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo is credited with creating ‘gun fu’, an action film genre that combines the elements of gunplay and kung fu. Woo’s signature style revolves around massive shootouts, heroic bloodshed, violent aesthetics, all choreographed into one beautiful package. His latest movie Manhunt is said to be the action maestro’s return to ‘gun fu’ after 14 years.

The 71-year-old director was in Kuala Lumpur recently to promote Manhunt, accompanied by the movie’s South Korean star Ha Ji-won, 39. The Guangzhou-born Hong Kong film director also conducted a symposium titled John Woo: Man Behind The Camera.

Woo is best known for his Hong Kong action thrillers like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard-Boiled, Hollywood actioners like Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II, and Chinese films like Red Cliff and The Crossing.

Manhunt was shot in Japan, and posed several challenges for Woo, chiefly technical ones, such as permits for firing a gun or filming in public areas, where they could interfere with traffic.

Woo admitted that when Ha was recommended to him, he had never seen her work. “She is absolutely outstanding for her role. She handles both motion and emotion so gracefully, I could not have asked for a better actress,” he said.

“She really reminded me of Chow Yun-fat. So, when shooting her action scenes, I directed her not as Ha Ji-won but like Chow Yun-fat!”

Manhunt also stars China actor Zhang Hanyu as a corporate attorney and Japanese singer Masaharu Fukuyama as a police detective.

Be Like Water

The South Korean actress says she grew up watching John Woo movies and loved the blazing gun action.

“I was so impressed by the double-gun firing scenes, which looked like dancing to me,” Ha said. “Director John Woo’s action scenes are always so fluid like flowing water. I try my best to connect my actions smoothly, so they will be flowing like water too.”

In Manhunt, Ha plays an assassin named Rain, the first female killer character in a John Woo action film.

Ha Ji-won Manhunt killer Rain John Woo

Ha is the first female killer character ever in a John Woo action movie. Photo: Filepic

The South Korean star has never played an assassin before. Her past work includes romantic drama Secret Garden, monster action film Sector 7, and a variety of warrior-woman roles in costume dramas and films like Empress Ki, The Huntresses, The Duelist and Damo.

Ha’s opening scene in Manhunt sees her making her entrance as a waitress clad in a kimono before transforming into killer mode. She says that is her favourite scene in the movie as well as her most challenging and most memorable.

“It’s my first time playing a killer, and that was my toughest scene. I have to wear a kimono and traditional Japanese shoes as I’m disguised as a waitress. Then, in a split second, I’ve to transform into a killer.

“It took a lot of effort to balance on those shoes and appear to be graceful and elegant at the same time. That may be a small scene, but it meant a lot to me,” shared Ha, who plays a surgeon in her latest Korean TV show, the medical romance drama Hospital Ship.

Manhunt is inspired by Ken Takakura’s Japanese classic You Must Cross The River Of Wrath (1976).