Hard Target (1993)
Directed by: John Woo | 97 minutes | action, thriller | Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Pfarrer, Robert Apisa, Arnold Vosloo, Lance Henriksen, Douglas Rye, Mike Leinert, Yancy Butler, Lenore Banks, Willie C. Carpenter
In 1992 John Woo changed the action genre with the equally beautiful and hard-boiled ‘Hard-Boiled’. Rain of bullets and shootings filmed in slow motion were elevated to an art form by this Chinese director. Heroic bloodshed Woo called his signature film style. The filmmaker had been active in the genre for many years, but this 1992 production marked his international breakthrough. A year later he made his Hollywood debut ‘Hard Target’ with the then very popular Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role. It can go wrong! Van Damme has been relegated to the video market and Woo has since left for his home country where he is steadily expanding his oeuvre.
‘Hard Target’ revolves around Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler). This lady ends up in New Orleans in her search for her missing father. This city is very dangerous and before she knows it this woman is in trouble. Fortunately, Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme with extremely greasy mat on the neck) comes to her rescue. This cool Cajun goes with his damsel in distress looking for her father. It soon becomes apparent that Palief had to deal with a gang of villains (led by Lance ‘Aliens’ Henriksen and Arnold ‘The Mummy’ Vosloo). These crooks prey on people for sport and killing is second nature to them.
The story is as simple as it is effective and a good peg to hang the action on. Woo does not disappoint in his Hollywood debut and fires at you some very coolly filmed action scenes. Slow motion and his signature white doves in flight are also present here. The violence is clearly portrayed and well choreographed.
The acting is also more than decent. Van Damme is not a great actor, but in this role he comes across as convincing and even cool. Very handsome considering his hairstyle! Butler relies on her disarming play and fresh appearance. The casting turns out well with a wonderfully glittering Hendriksen as the highlight. This actor visibly enjoys his villainous role and is a joy to watch. Vosloo is also doing well.
Woo’s real Hollywood breakthrough came in 1997 with ‘Face/Off’ where he pitted Nicolas Cage and John Travolta against each other. The director was never able to match the success of that film and the attention for his work gradually ebbed away. In 2008, Woo turned his back on Tinseltown and refocused on the Chinese market. ‘Hard Target’ is surely the highlight of Woo’s Hollywood adventure. In this film the stunts were just a bit harder, more inventive, rawer and more brutal than in later productions shot in America.