"Easily one of the years best films...Van Damme's best movie to date!" -- WGN Radio
"Hard Target hits the bullseye... big time!" -- WWOR TV
MCA/Universal, 1993, 97 min.
Director: John Woo
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Chance Boudreaux"), Lance Henriksen ("Fouchon"), Arnold Vosloo ("Van Cleaf"), Yancy Butler ("Natasha Binder"), Chuck Pfarrer ("Doug Binder"), Wilford Brimley ("Douvee")
Executive producer: Sam Raimi
Producers: Sean Daniels and James Jacks
Writer: Chuck Pfarrer
Cinematographer: Russell Carpenter
Editor: Bob Murawaski
Available on video (full frame) from MCA/Universal
Available on DVD from MCA/Universal - a review can be found here
"Don't hunt what you can't kill"
In New Orleans, Emil Fouchon offers the idle rich something to do with their time and money -- hunting the homeless for sport. After Fouchon's crew kills a Vietnam vet named Doug Binder, his daughter Natasha comes searching for him. Unable to get any help from the police, she enlists the aid of Chance Boudreaux. Eventually, the hunters become the hunted as Chance draws closer to Fuschon.
Hard Target, John Woo's first US film, suffered horribly from the studio system. Woo's initial edit, which featured his trademark explosive action scenes, was pared down to a mere shadow of its former self by Universal. What is left is an above-average action film that, while entertaining, doesn't even come close to matching the brilliance of something like Hard-Boiled. While the final action sequence has at least the semblance of "vintage" Woo, the rest of the film comes off as standard stupid macho Van Damme posturing. While this is one of Van Damme's best films (which isn't saying much; the only other Van Damme film I like is Bloodsport), probably only hardcore action fans will enjoy this one.
- Hard Target took in $32.5 million at the US box office.
- Originally, Kurt Russell (who appeared in John Carpenter's homage to Hong Kong films, Big Trouble in Little China) was considered for the lead.
- During the final action sequence, Lance Henriksen was actually set on fire when a stunt failed.
- The "ear-cutting" scene was done as a friendly nod to Quentin Tarantino, who had a similar scene in Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino himself had given a nod to Woo in the same film by dressing the gangsters in suits similar to those worn in A Better Tomorrow 2.
- Executive producer Sam Raimi's (Army of Darkness, Hercules) brother, Ted has a cameo in the film ("Hey, I don't have any change, man!"). Xena fans will probably recognize Ted, since he has a recurring role on that show.
- The studio didn't trust Woo, so Raimi was set to become director if Woo didn't produce "adequate" work. Raimi was skeptical to step into Woo's shoes and said: "Woo at seventy percent is still going to blow away most American action directors working at one hundred percent!" [from Hong Kong Action Cinema, © 1995 Overlook Press].
- John Woo had about half as much time to shoot Hard Target (about 65 days) as he did with his previous film, Hard-Boiled.
- After numerous cuts of the movie failed to get a "R" rating, even Van Damme was given a shot in editing the film. Even during filming, Woo encountered heat from the studio. Chow Yun-Fat visited the set and recalls "[The studio heads] tell him that, if he shoots five people in this scene, then he can only shoot two people in the next scene. He cannot kill seven people in one scene and then another seven people right afterwards!" [Hong Kong Action Cinema]. Woo says this about the editing process in City on Fire [© 1999 Verso Books]: "I wasn't used to the Hollywood system when I started shooting Hard Target. Never before in my career had an actor [Van Damme] had final approval over the editing, the script, the casting. [Van Damme] hired his own editor and did his own cut which the producers completely rejected."
- In an interview with Arnold Vosloo, he noted that while everybody on the set treated Woo with respect, Van Damme felt he should be the center of attention and thus clashed with Woo often during the course of filming. However, Van Damme still maintains he had a good relationship with Woo, as demonstrated with this quote from Hong Kong Action Cinema: "My English was not so good and [Woo's] English was not so good, but we had a few drinks and after a while we seemed to be communicating on a level above language, almost like telepathy!" -- but in the same book, he shows what may have led to the bad blood on the set with this quote: "It's great to be able to have all this gunplay in the film, but it's also great for John Woo because he can use everything I can do, all the kicks, the jumps, the filps...".
- The European version of HT runs about three minutes more, and the "director's cut" (actually a bad quality workprint) has about 20 minutes more of footage (including a love scene -- ech). Check out For A Few Bullets More for details on the European version, and, for info on the director's cut, Excerpt from Hard Target: Director's Cut.
- The basic plot of the film (rich people hunting men for sport) comes from a 1932 film The Most Dangerous Game.
- Hard Target was the first movie to stage action sequences inside the French Quarter area of New Orleans.
- Screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer (a former Navy Seal) help train some of the actors on the proper methods for stalking people. Many of the inventive reloading techniques Van Damme uses during the finale are actually used by Seals. Woo worked closely with Pfarrer because the studio's limitations on violence meant Woo had to emphasize martail arts instead of gunfighting for most of the movie. Pfarrer, who had worked on several movies before, was so satified after working with Woo that he said "I wouldn't like to be an American director with a buddy-cop action movie coming out...there's a new sheriff in town and his name is John Woo!" [Hong Kong Action Cinema]
- Since Woo wanted to use so much real explosive powder during the finale, the crew had to build special shields around the cameras. They dubbed the new cameras the "Woo Woo choo-choo."
- The finale uses some 357 shots -- none of which were storyboarded beforehand. The bit with Chance and Van Cleaf shooting at each other through windows was repeated from Hard-Boiled because Woo felt that he didn't get it "right" in that movie.
- After The Killer and Hard-Boiled, Woo received many offers to work in America. He refused them all (including an offer from Tristar to do an English version of The Killer) until Hard Target because "...some of them were good, but the rest [were] only martial arts movies...I have no more interest in kung fu films" [Hong Kong Action Cinema]. Woo's longtime business partner and agent Terence Chang offers more insight in City on Fire: "My idea of coming to Hollywood started in mid-1990 when I received phone calls from people expressing their desire to work with John Woo. At that time, we were very successful in Hong Kong. But John needed to grow as an artist. He needed to expand his scope...he needed more technical support. It was also his dream to make American films. I was just trying to help him fufill his dream. The stumbling block was his ability to speak English. I hired an American tutor for John. For two hours per day and six days per week, John worked with him for six months. I am happy we did it. We left Hong Kong when its movie industry was at its height...and we ventured into something that is totally unknown. John moved his whole family to Los Angeles. For him, there was no turning back." However, he still had reservations about the story: "The movies I like to make are very rich and full of passion. We tried to do Hard Target that way, but somehow it didn't work well. I felt the story was very one-dimensional, all about action. In the beginning it was a little confused, because the producers wanted my style but they were afraid to make an action film too dramatic..." [from the June 2000 issue of "Premiere"].
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