starring Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ha Jiwon
screenplay by Nip Wan Fung, Gordon Chan, James Yuen, Itaru Era, Ku Zoi Lam, Maria Wong, Sophia Yeh, based on the novel Kimiyo funnu no kawa wo watare by Juko Nishimura
directed by John Woo
starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Toby Jones
written and directed by Michael Haneke
by Bill Chambers About five seconds into John Woo's Man Hunt (no relation to that Fritz Lang movie with George Sanders in a cave), there's a freeze-frame. Followed shortly by another. It's glorious. Digital filmmaking has no doubt made it easier for Woo to be himself, as has being back in Asia: Hollywood never did warm to his Peckinpah flourishes, nor his melodramatic flair. But something is off in Man Hunt, which finds Woo returning, a touch desperately, to the Heroic Bloodshed genre in the form of a gloss on The Fugitive. (Officially, it's a remake of a Ken Takakura vehicle variously known as Manhunt and Hot Pursuit.) Chinese Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is a hotshot lawyer for a pharmaceutical company that frames him for the murder of an alleged lover (Tao Okamoto, bestowing her iconic look on a role that doesn't thank her in return) to protect its secrets; Japanese Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) is the hotshot Inspector sent after Du when he escapes custody. Du repeatedly eludes Yamura's clutches, but over the course of the chase they build a rapport that transcends lawful and cultural barriers and, à la Hard-Boiled, unite against a common enemy, corrupt CEO Yoshihiro Sakai (Jun Kunimura). I should mention the two female super-assassins hot on Du's trail, since Woo's daughter Angeles plays one of them. For better or worse, this is personal filmmaking.
In a comparable vein, Michael Haneke's Happy End is more meta revue than movie. It may be his most superfluous film outside his Funny Games redux, feeling, at least initially, like a retread of Benny's Video, with a pair of mordantly-captioned cell-phone videos opening the picture: one in which an adolescent girl spies on her hated mother's bedtime routine, the other in which the same girl feeds her guinea pig antidepressants. (It says a lot about Haneke that this latter vignette had me squirming harder than anything in Euthanizer, a movie about pet euthanasia.) A short while later, the videographer's mom overdoses on antidepressants (hmmm...), and young Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin) is sent to stay with her father, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a doctor who lives with his second wife (Laura Verlinden) and new baby under the same roof as his sister Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and her adult son Pierre (Franz Rogowski), at the palatial home of widowed patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant)--Georges, cheekily, sharing his name with Trintignant's Amour character. Indeed, the similar circumstances of his wife's death suggest they could be from parallel universes. (Likewise, Huppert essayed an Anne Laurent in Haneke's Time of the Wolf.)
Haneke professes to hate "themes" but his films are famed for, among other things, their ability to express a core idea purposefully and with clarity. There's a disconnect between Happy End's storylines--Huppert's thread might as well take place on another planet, and branches off from Pierre's crumbling sanity (tied to the rude awakening of his social conscience) into its own non sequitur involving Anne's long-distance relationship with a British businessman (Toby Jones)--that makes the picture seem half-baked or unfinished in Haneke's hands, whereas, say, Robert Altman would probably have gotten away with it because his films were less about an ideological truth than about a place in time. Happy End plays like an arrangement of scenes deleted from Haneke movies real and hypothetical; Loose Ends would've been a more fitting title. By now, of course, Haneke's tony exploitation has become old hat among cinephiles, so a change-up in his M.O. isn't necessarily unwelcome. The problem--as I see it, anyway--is that he's still working in old modes cinematically, still laser-precise in his blocking, still holding wide shots long enough to encourage a scrutinizing of the frame for out-of-place details, or build looming dread (or impart a sense of false security). When Happy End doesn't add up to anything particularly profound, it's a bigger let down than if the film had adopted a more freeform visual approach. The aesthetics of the piece are misleading, if not deceptive.
Still, who can blame an anthropologist like Haneke for having too much on his mind these days? And the movie does resonate, in part because the news that the 86-year-old Trintignant has cancer coincided with its TIFF bow. Happy End's best scenes involve the suicidal Georges passing down his dark wisdom like an heirloom and trying to coax people, including his hapless barber, into putting him out of his misery. If this turns out to be the actor's final statement to the world, it has a healthy gallows humour that invites ironic laughter without, for perhaps the first time in Haneke's oeuvre, the attendant scolding. Man Hunt - Programme: Special Presentations; Happy End - Programme: Masters