Cult-Trash-Badass-Cinema -and more…

Review – HARD TARGET (1993)


Directed by John Woo

John Woo and Van Damme, what a combination!!!

My buddy Jason over atrobotGEEKS Cult Cinema did his review of Hard Target and missed my video-review of the Hard Target workprint, which I deleted, cuz I felt it was insufficient. Make sure to read his take on it as well.

Now I feel i have to take it on…the theatrical version with additional info to the different versions, including the  workprint.

Van Damme plays an out of work seaman, who  helps a young woman to find her missing father. Turns out he was the victim of  hunting games,  that are held for rich assholes, who can afford to shell out half a million dollars to shoot a homeless veteran. Naturally, they get in trouble, and Van Damme has to put an end to this.

When this came out in 1993, this was heaven on earth for a Van Damme fan, who – just a bit earlier, got introduced to the mindblowing action movies of John Woo.

How  can you not love THE KILLER or HARD-BOILED, BULLET IN THE HEAD or the A BETTER TOMORROW movies…and a few others. Combined with an action-star like Van Damme ( on the height of his career), this could only be awesome…and it is.

Based on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, this plays  in New Orleans, only to excuse Van Damme`s accent!!!!

The status of both Van Damme and John Woo also brought along a great bunch of actors to support Jean-Claude, who isnt exactly the pinnacle of acting himself. Especially the villains Fouchon (Henriksen) ,

and Van Cleef(Arnold Vosloo). But there isn`t one actor or actress, I would have wanted replaced.The whole cast seems very fitting..and Van Damme is the cheese on this Double-Whopper of an action movie. Van Damme should have gotten someboyd to really learn the english language properly, trying to lose a bit of his thick, french accent. It would`ve helped to deliver his lines a bit more fluently. But french people seem to have a hard time spaking english, and he didn´t seem to have cared that much about that particular problem. And the script writers always made sure he had a french or canadian background, so his stumbling speech would be excused. But initially, I got into the theatre for Van Damme, and I was happy that it turned out to be so violent. The direction of John Woo made this a big cake with an even bigger cherry on top! The suspense of disbelief is a must here, as some scenes are far away from realism, and some scenes more than unlikely(like the almost total absence of any police forces, but there is a strike going on, so okay…). But it`s an action movie, and it does deliver more than a fair share of that. The only problem to me are a few bad edits. The movie was cut to pieces several times, in order to get the R-rating, but that doesn`t excuse the scene  in the beginning, when Chuck Pfarrer as Douglas Binder is chased and seeks refuge in a shack. In the trailer , you see him jumping in it through a hole, but only there…in the movie, that isn`t shown, at all. That could`ve been prevented easily. Hell, it is just one very small scene..add it, and it would make a hundred times more sense. Plus, the cuts are also  evident when he ends up with more arrows in his body than  were shot at him  in the R-rated version….things like that annoy the hell out of me.

Sadly, John Woo didnt get Final Cut here, as it had to get an R -rating. The first video release in Germany was the R-rated US cut.  The UK had two tapes…the first beeing the R-rated US cut, after that they released the full uncut version, too. I know that , cuz I had an internship at an english video store at that time( oh- the good ol`days).Only much later, on DVD, that uncut(official) version (identical to the japanese release) got released in Germany and allover Europe(UNIVERSAL DVD). Hunting down such uncut tapes was a difficult and often very expensive task.  The whole extent of the editing can be witnessed, when watching the workprint version of HARD TARGET.Here, the Hong Kong roots of John Woo are clearly visible, as this is more in line with the insane violence we know from HARD-BOILED or THE KILLER. Somehow its sad, that there even is something like the MPAA or the german FSK, or any other film rating body. If its for adults anyway, then why cut it? I never understood that .

Less of an issue these days, but back then, it was annoying and humiliating to any film-loving adult.

I have , to this day the belief, that there was a scene in the german theatrical version, which didn`t show up in the vhs version anywhere…I might be wrong..but I`m almost sure that Henriksen shot that one guy, after he got bitten by the snake…a sort of mercy killing, as he was clearly suffering from that bite… maybe that slipped through, but later got cut for the vhs release…I will never know,lol.

All in all, this is one of the Van Damme movies really worth seeing, best of course in its uncut glory, if you want even more violence, erasing some of the WTF moments, seek out the workprint…a true fan surely appreciates the unadulterated vision of John Woo`s action sequences.

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8 responses

  1. Wow! That was a great review buddy! Keep it up!

    December 6, 2011 at 10:22 PM

  2. I’ve never seen the workprint version, how is the picture and sound quality of it? I remember reading about Van Damme editing his own version, when you’ve had the chance to work with someone of Woo’s skill, you have to trust his vision.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:48 AM

  3. I ordered mine from Revok on VH back then and transferred it to DVD, the quality is pretty good, very watchable for a workprint.
    It is still one of my biggest treasures.

    December 7, 2011 at 4:08 PM

  4. Love this film, easily my favourite Van Damme despite the lack of martial arts, the gun play is stunning. Luckily I live in the UK so have only seen the “uncut” version.

    The workprint sounds like it could be interesting to watch. I agree that Van Damme can be very self obsessed and narcissistic. I can’t believe he complained about “bringing John Woo to Hollywood” and then never getting a favour back from him by casting him in more movies. As far as I was aware, John Woo was picked by the producer Sam Raimi and they wanted Kurt Russell for the lead but he turned it down so they went with Van Damme.

    That said I still enjoy his movies and there are times that he’s very humble about his downfall in the late 90s.

    December 7, 2011 at 5:11 PM

  5. Direct to Video Connoisseur

    This is interesting, I’ll have to check this version out.

    December 10, 2011 at 5:54 PM

  6. Ty

    Excellent write-up! Didn’t know Van Damme made his own cut! Lance is way more awesome than Van Damme!

    December 14, 2011 at 3:00 AM

  7. I agree about the editing of Bloodsport and Cyborg(although Cyborg wasn`t well edited in a lot of parts.) And I agree that JC is the star of the film, and Lance is hardly the star, but the better actor for sure. I wish they would`ve let John Woo do his thing- actors are hired to act, not cut movies…

    May 13, 2012 at 9:08 AM

  8. I updated this review a bit later on, so some comments concern the original post. The extreme van damme bashing felt to harsh after some consideration. Van Damme did his own cut, but was also rejected, at least in its entirety. The final version I guess is a combo of both.

    August 22, 2012 at 12:40 PM

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