Hard Target (1993)

Emil Fouchon organizes manhunts in New Orleans for rich persons. He lets them chase down and kill homeless people that were tricked to take part in the hunt. Natasha Binder searches for her father Douglas who was killed in the last hunt. She enlists the services of hired hand Chance Boudreaux, to help him search for her father. Their pursuits don’t go unnoticed by Fouchon and his henchmen, and soon Chance and Natasha are also running for their lives.

Hard Target was director John Woo’s first venture into Hollywood, one year after Hard Boiled was released. Hard Boiled was the latest entry in a series of movies directed by him that revolutionized the action genre by celebrating on-screen violence in a way that was never seen before. Everyone wants to see some mayhem from time to time, and Woo had the unique talent to virtuously orchestrate extremely bloody shootouts with incredible detail and intensity.

Hard Target was another remake of the 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game. The topic of hunting humans for sport seems to be an interesting premise for movie makers and audiences throughout all decades. Hard Target does not bring anything new to the table in terms of story. The plot and characters are simple and cliché ridden. This is somewhat in line with Woo’s earlier works in Hongkong where the scripts of many of his best movies were equally thin. They were often elevated by a strong dose of pathos and melodrama, however, which gave them a more epic vibe.

John Woo also had great actors like Chow Yun Fat at his disposal who added charisma and depth to the characters. For Hard Target he got Jean-Claude Van Damme as a lead actor who was having a good run in the early 1990s with his movie career. Van Damme was not a good actor back then, and also not in this movie, where he’s delivering a rather clunky performance. His character is still memorable though, thanks to his eccentric hair style, fashion choices and French accent. No complaints, though, as he has a strong physical presence, which is exactly right for the movie. Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo lead the bad guy camp, and the overacting of their shallow, but thoroughly evil characters is quite enjoyable to watch.

The overall acting quality and plot may be modest at best, but they take a backseat in any case to the action Woo puts on display. While the amount of Gun-Fu and slow-motion sequences is reduced compared to his earlier works, there’s still an extraordinary amount of violence in Hard Target. We get explosions, fist fights, motorcycle chases, and plenty of shootouts. As expected, Woo delivers a perfectly choreographed ballet of destruction, even though the action scenes naturally are less iconic than those from his previous works.

Hard Target may be Woo’s best movie he made in Hollywood, and arguably his last movie where he went all out on his trademark style. It’s a relentless and ultraviolent action spectacle that is filmed masterfully and has aged well.

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