Monday, 24 March 2008

Hard Target (1993)

This is how a man deals with snakes

I have a lot of guilty pleasures, but the guiltiest of all would have to be the 1993 John Woo film Hard Target. Actually, you know what? Fuck it, I'm not guilty at all. I love Hard Target, mullet and all, and I don't care who knows it. But first, some history. After the breakthrough success of The Killer and Hard Boiled, Woo was about to make his stateside debut. Sure, he was going to be saddled with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but I like to think of it as a trial by fire, an initiation test into the fraternity of Hollywood action directors. I think many of us Woo faithful were upset with the result because we still had hope for Woo's Hollywood career, but looking at it now I can appreciate it for what it. Cause seriously, this shit is bananas.

Now you probably all know the plot, but I'll briefly summarise: Nat (Yancy Butler) comes to the Big Easy in search of her father, a homeless Vietnam vet who has gone missing. After being a little cavalier with her bankroll, she is attacked by thugs and it's up to Chance Bordreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his greasy, greasy mullet to rescue her. Cue fist fight, where we are treated to many shots of JCVD's oily mane whipping about in slow motion, no doubt spattering all nearby with warm grease.

Initially he has no desire to help her find her father, but a brother's gotta eat. Turns out that Nat's father has been the latest victim of a Most Dangerous Game style hunting operation run by the villainous Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Soon Nat and Chance are on the run from Fouchon and his motorcycle goons, until Chance turns the tables. The film ends with an extended climatic shootout in a warehouse full of old Mardi Gras floats.

Van Damme trips and stumbles over his lines, leaving the corpses of bad one-liners in his wake. I think Yancy Butler and her eyebrows are trying to under-act JCVD on a bet, but she should know that such a thing is not possible. There is supposed to be chemistry between them but it's like watching a retard bang two blocks of wood together (although Nat seemed so impressed by JCVD's slow-motion swagger I'm surprised she didn't immediately take her pants off). When is Woo going to realise that the only love affair he should be committing to film is that between a man and his pistol? Literally, you sickos. At least this is one JCVD film that doesn't subject us to a shot of his bare ass, so woohoo I guess.

The rest of the cast is the greatest ensemble of B-movie wackiness outside of a Uwe Boll film. Wilford Brimley as Chance's bootlegging Cajun Uncle Douvee? Genius! Lance Henriksen plays Fouchon in a ridiculously over-the-top manner, all clenched teeth and menacing growls, although with Henriksen it's pretty much a menacing growl by default. He's the kind of bad guy who vents his frustration by punching out his own men. Arnold Vosloo is great as Fouchon's right hand man Pik, and an actor I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of.

All of Woo's trademarks are here... two-fisted shootouts, slow-motion jumping through windows and lots of birds. Here it's pigeons instead of doves though, which kind of botches the symbolism. I guess having a geographically inaccurate species of bird in your movie crosses the line of realism for Mr Woo. He also picks his own pockets a few times; Chance's gunfight with Pik and Fouchon's single-shot pistol are lifted straight from Hard Boiled.

There's some pretty awesome shit in this film, like Chance kicking a dude off a motorcycle or Uncle Douvee shooting an arrow that whips right past Fouchon's face in slow motion, causing a whole lot of stuff (including Douvee's own house, a bit of overkill on his part I thought) to blows up real good. There's also lots of dudes getting shot a whole bunch of times and then getting a roundhouse kick to the face for good measure, which is good stuff. But with John Woo's excess and JCVD's king-sized ego, the film balloons into self-parody, so we've also got scenes like Chance balancing on top of a moving motorcycle or punching out a rattlesnake. This is also awesome, but for different reasons. The constant bursts of Louisiana-flavoured music got on my tits, though... we're in New Orleans, I get it.

One other thing of note is that the editing in this film is just brutal. Apparently the studio put it through the wringer several times to try and get it below an NC-17 rating. As a result, action sequences seem a little sloppy and unfinished, plus Chance only shoots dudes a paltry five times instead of a more satisfying twelve. Apparently there's a Director's Cut floating around that alleviates some of these problems. I doubt it turns it into Hard Boiled 2 or anything, unless it excises Jean-Claude entirely, or at least digitally removes his mullet. If this is the case, please inform me as to where I can find a copy.

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