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Monday, 18 December 2017

Retro Review: Hard Target (1993)

Hard Target
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Yancy Butler, Lance Henriksen, Arnold Vosloo, Kasi Lemmons
Genre: Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $74 million

Plot: A woman hires a drifter as her guide through New Orleans in search of her father, who has gone missing. They discover a game of cat and mouse behind his appearance in the process

'Arguably, Van Damme's Best Movie'

Hong Kong director John Woo made his mark back in his native country with hits such as The Killer and Hard Boiled starring Chow Yun-Fat back in the late 1980s. It wasn't long until he arrived in Hollywood that he unleashed his brand of Western-based high -octane violence and heavy-handed gunplay to the masses. 1993's Hard Target was Woo's U.S debut and his first film that starred predominantly Western-based actors. The character of Chance was originally going to be played by Kurt Russell, famed for Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China, in the main lead role, but he was busy with other projects, and thus was unavailable. Woo then turned to Universal Pictures first choice in Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the rest is history. 

John Woo did, however, make several cuts to this film in order for the MPAA to grant it an R-rating. It appears as though that Hard Target could have turned out to be a lot more violent and bloody than the version shown on TV and released on DVD and cinemas, had it not been for the cuts. The uncut version, which is available to buy on the region 2 DVD format also delves a little more on the backstory of the main villain, the philosophy on hunting humans, as well as a love scene between Chance and Nat. The latter of which might have benefited the film and made it more watchable. 

The screenplay is originally based on the 1932 adaptation of the short story, The Most Dangerous Game

Set in New Orleans, Former marine, Chance Boudreaux is now a longshoreman in need of work when a woman named Nat approaches him after witnessing him beat up some thugs who tried to mug her and coming to her aid. She is in search of her missing father - only it turns out he was murdered by a gang who hunt to kill their prey. She offers him cash, in return for his help and her and Chance must work together, but as they do, with his martial arts skills, Chance must outwit and defeat the bad guys at his own game.

Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie offerings have been a mixed bag, to say the least, where he gets to do more showboating and unleashing his fancy, yet deadly kicks and moves, along with acting performances that leave a lot to be desired. His Belgian accent makes him a target for mockery and criticism whenever he delivers his lines, although here, I thought with his performance he did well. The plot of the film isn't entirely special, the story isn't that big of a deal. But as an action film, insofar as set pieces, stunts, fight scenes, explosions, heavy gunplay go, Hard Target doesn't disappoint. 

The fighting, especially Van Damme's martial arts skills are quite spectacular to watch; as showy as they look in his other films, here, not only are they great when he executes them, from an entertainment point of view, it makes the film more exciting and thrilling as well.  

Essentially, Van Damme gives what is for me his most impressive performance, as well as kicking ass, hard & pulling off some great and deft-defying moves, not to mention the Action mullet look, well, whilst the others are good. Here, his acting is less wooden and still, he does make a bit of an effort to mix things up with regards to his performance and his martial arts skills by also combining a bit of John Woo's gunplay/gun-fu style that is found in the likes of Face/Off and Hard Boiled. The female character, Nat manages to hold her own and thankfully, isn't one of those damsels in distress types, who screams a lot. 

Woo's over-stylized visual flair that is a trademark in his other films, really galvanises that New Orleans look and feel of this film. And the film's location shots look nice. Most U.S based martial arts action movies aren't as great as its Far East counterparts, as the quality of the action and martial arts fighting in them is only sufficient enough, but not technically amazing.

But thanks to John Woo and Van Damme, with Hard Target, what makes it so good is that the quality of each set piece and scene is so over-the-top & mind-blowing with each devastating Van Damme blow and action, especially counter-attacking wise, that is being delivered, yet it is executed with a flair and style that is so often seen in many Hong Kong action movies. From Van Damme shooting the bad guys whilst standing on a moving motorcycle at the same time, Van Damme launching one of his aerial flying kicks into the bad guy's faces & knocking out the cigar from his mouth and Van Damme, being well Van Damme, he just doesn't let up in the fighting stakes and it was fun to watch. For audiences unfamiliar with his previous work, Hard Target was a taster of what John Woo could achieve, without the constraints from American movie executives and in being let loose his wild, high- octane style of action. This is one of the best non-Hong Kong/Asian based martial arts action flicks. 

If only Woo's quality of output in films has been far more consistent, he would have been up there with the greats. 

Some people even compared this to the Sly Stallone film, Cobra - Hard Target is easily way better than that film. More action-packed, better stunts, less corny dialogue uttered. The old uncle riding horseback was like watching Super Mario riding a horse in a Mario Sports video game. 

Final Verdict: 

Van Damme's ultimate career highlight and the pinnacle out of all of his offerings, directed by a man who could get and was able to get the best out of Van Damme, and without all the showy, silly poses to go with it.

Hard Target is an action film that hits the spot. 



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