So once again we have survived.

Hard Target

WARNING: This unfinished review here was written in the year 2000 when I was young and stupid. I’m leaving it here for the comments, for historical purposes and for my own accountability, but please if you’re just looking for a review of HARD TARGET read the one I wrote 16 years of wisdom later.

Well as you can see above, I reviewed John Woo’s HARD BOILED long ago. In that review I was obviously right about a bunch of crap that I said. For example, HARD BOILED is still a masterpiece. And as I predicted, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON was a masterpiece that blew away the combined artistic merit of every American Chow Yun Fat movie times ten. But I was wrong that after the success of CROUCHING TIGER my man Fat would never do an american movie again. Back then I would’ve been happy to hear that but that’s because I never saw fucking BULLETPROOF MONK. Oh for crying out loud, what is the man doing?

Hard TargetAnyway, hindsight is 50/50 or whatever but looking back I think I should’ve focused my review more on John Woo. That’s the real tragedy is what happened to John Woo after we abducted him to American shores. The very next movie he did was this one, HARD TARGET. And man, this is not even a huge step down. It’s like, he just falls all the way down the stairs. I mean you can see similarities in the use of slow motion and everything but everything substantial about John Woo and his style is not here. And these days the slo-mo could be considered a bad thing now that we’ve seen it imitated for more than a decade. Anyway, this is a historic movie because it signalled the beginning of the importation of Hong Kong directors and the first known case of the legendary Curse of Van Damme, which would later strike Tsui Hark (2 times), Ring Lam (3 times) and Ching Tsu-Tung (the rare Steven Seagal variation of the curse).

A few movies later Woo recovered his footing with FACE/OFF but that was it man. The best we can expect from him now is a dumb action movie that is entertaining in it sheer stupidity and surprises you with the occasional light touch of John Woo sentimentality. Think MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: 2.

Now that we know there’s no hope for a return to the real John Woo, it is easier to enjoy this moronic piece of shit. The story is a variation on the Most Dangerous Game story of humans hunting humans. Lance Henriksen, one of our greatest actors in our worst movies, leads a group of scumbags running a service for decadent millionaires who want to hunt homeless veterans (“volunteers,” they call them).

[why didn’t I finish this review?]

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 1st, 2000 at 2:35 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “Hard Target”

  1. Man unlike say PAYCHECK or fucking BROKEN ARROW, I really enjoyed HARD TARGET.

    Its my sort of actioneer speed. Highly energetic, full of action action, a good casted villainy, some nice insane moments, a plot that doesn’t get in the way of the action cinema narrative, and roughly only 90 minutes long.

    Its not FACE/OFF, but sure beats the shit out of WINDTALKERS.

    And Vern, consider this: Unlike Ray or Kurosawa or Ozu and so many other great Asian filmmakers, HARD TARGET was the first time a mainstream Hollywood movie was directed by an Asian director. And it was a modest hit. Nothing to write home about it, but it ensured he would stay in Hollywood.

    That success, and Woo later having the biggest money maker of 2000 in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2*, paved the way for all those HK directors you mention….but also Ang Lee. So basically if not for HARD TARGET, Lee might not have gotten the opportunity to make that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and win the Oscar, showing that Asians can direct in America more than just action shit.

    Just think about it.

    *=Which incidentally also sucked, parlty perhaps because Cruise took the editing last cut from him.

  2. I love Hard Target. My favorite bit is the hunting pistol Lance Henriksen uses. Everybody else is using machine guns, but he’s like, “Fuck it, one shot at a time is all I need.” Badass.

  3. Oh yes.

    My favorite scene might be after Van Damme and the chick make that dramatic escape off the bridge onto the train. Several of his guys and cars got blown up, yet the expression on Henriksen’s face is….orgasm.

    The dude is getting a chimmy that he is getting real great prey to hunt finally, and not some local desperate bums and hobos.

  4. Just watched this, really suprised you didn’t seem to like it Vern, I thought it was really your kind of thing. Lots of bizarre little plot moments mixed with badassery (punching a snake unconscious), some well put together and unique-ish action scenes(the finale is as ott explosive and destructive as Hard Boiled’s), Woo’s trademark style on display in a film that highlights both how awesome and ridiculous it can be and an excellent villian.

    Also there’s a hint of subtext to do with the rich and the poor and how the homeless are treated. Especially that bit half way through the film when JCVDs friend is being hunted and he starts begging all those people to help him and they just think he’s some crazy homeless guy. That’s suprisingly affecting imo.

  5. Maybe he was just coming off a Woo binge. It’s hard to downshift your standards from Hard Boiled to Hard Target. I love them both for different reasons, but the world hadn’t developed the sliding scale of quality when judging Woo’s American work yet. We still hadn’t seen Paycheck, so we didn’t know how bad it could get.

  6. This is actually my favorite Van Damme movie (Sudden Death is a close second), and while it is a huge step down for Woo from Hard Boiled, aren’t most action movies a huge step down from Hard Boiled? We are talking about what may be the quintisential Hong Kong action movie. Oh well, still Vern, I think you need to finish this review, especially since you’re so high on the JCVD right now.

  7. You should really watch and review it again, Vern. I saw it yesterday and while the first half of the movie seems these days more like a parody, with all its slow motion shots, dissolves and crappy saxophone score, the second half delivers. Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo are such a great team of villains and I love how Henriksen’s last words in this movie are not just “whoop”, but also describe the reason why he’s about to die pretty well! Not to mention the scene with the snake! From the first appereance of the snake, to the moment where JCVD punches it, right to the moment were Henriksen shoots the man who got bitten in the face, just because he didn’t die efficient enough. And I’m not sure if it was intended to be funny, but I laughed hard when JCVD first shoots a villain 12 times or more and then even kicks him in the face afterwards, as if he all these bullet holes wouldn’t be enough!
    Seriously, for me it’s Woo’s best US-movie! (Never been a fan of Face/Off. Maybe I should give it another shot these days, but 10 years ago I didn’t like it.)

  8. Aw it wasn’t that bad. I’ve got a feeling that if it was done by a different directer, and you had less expectations, you would’ve loved it.

    But I do indeed feel your pain.

  9. Give this another shot, I found it to be a grand time.

  10. I think you should definitely finish your review, Vern! There are so many things to love about this film: Ted Raimi’s Cajun accent, the various stereotypes embodied by the final group of hunters, Wilfred Brimley’s arrival on the scene, and the generally clever use of Louisiana locations.

    Most of all, though, it has one of the best villain tandems of all-time: Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo, who each live up to their billing and are delightful when together or on their own. Remember, Vern: don’t get angry. You’re a professional.

  11. I agreee with Paul. You need to seriously revisit HARD TARGET.

  12. I agree, but not until after Halloween. Also I’ll have to borrow my friend’s bootleg of the director’s cut again.

    Also for HARD TARGET fans I recommend this episode of the Daily Grindhouse podcast:

    http://dailygrindhouse.com/thewire/daily-grindhouse-podcast-ep-4-american-hippie-israel-1972-special-guest-bob-murawski/

    They interview Bob Murawski about Grindhouse Releasing and his career as an editor. He won an Oscar for THE HURT LOCKER but I don’t think they even bring that up. He does however talk in detail about HARD TARGET getting fucked over by the studio. It’s frustrating to hear the problems they had and also that he can’t appreciate the finished product for what it is, but it’s really interesting stuff I was not aware of.

  13. Vern, did you ever do a review of that HARD TARGET workprint, the one with all the nature footage while Lance Henriksen plays the piano? I thought you did but I don’t know where it is.

    Anyways, this movie is great. It’s one of those things that seemed blasphemous at the time but in hindsight you can appreciate it for what it is. I love how it makes Van Damme seem so mythically awesome.

  14. There’s so much to dig in this – from the whole “working classes vs the ruling classes” thing (seriously, there’s some deep shit going on there), the crystal clear action, the awesome bad guys, JCVD’s hair,to Wilford Brimley’s adorable little boots – it’s a fantastically enjoyable action flick.

    So yeah, I think this needs a re-review a la LETHAL WEAPON – and now the BD is out, the stars have aligned, etc. go to it, Vern. Please.

  15. It will happen. This I promise.

  16. Yay!

    I await patiently.

    With a dove sat on my shoulder.

  17. According to Kung Fu Cinema.com, not only is HARD TARGET 2 on it’s way, but Scott Adkins will replace Van Damme as the lead.

    The follow-up will be directed by Roel Reine (‘Man with the Iron Fists 2: Sting of the Scorpion’, ’12 Rounds 2:Reloaded’), with John Woo himself acting as producer.

  18. Karlos, that is exciting news. Maybe we will get lucky and John Woo will produce HARD TARGET 2 the way he produced REIGN OF ASSASSINS and ghost direct parts of the film.

  19. HARD TARGET 2? Scott Atkins? John Woo? This could be–

    Oh. Roel Reine. Well, it’ll be watchable, I guess.

  20. With news of a “sequal” I think it is time for Vern to live up to his promise of reviewing this again. It is so odd to read him being so negative towards this movie. With Vern giving positive reviews to so many below average or average dtv films I figure there is no way he can possibly shit on this film as much as he did to this one in 2009. I mean, he will most likely give a positive review of the Scott Adkins one and there is no way for it to be significantly better.

  21. See, I used to look at HARD TARGET from the lens of “this is the guy who directed HARD BOILED, what the fuck is he doing?” Now I look at it as a great Van Damme movie from the guy who did PAYCHECK and shit. You are right that I was totally wrong to be so harsh on it, because it’s an awesome movie that I love watching now. But I wasn’t wrong that it was tragic what was happening to Woo in Hollywood, especially considering he didn’t even get to release the HARD TARGET he made.

    I have the slightly longer European blu-ray waiting for me to view when the time is right. Sorry for the delay. I want it to be special.

  22. There’s just so much to love about HARD TARGET. Van Damme punching the snake or the inspired response to why his mother named him Chance. Not to mention Arnold Vosloo as “right hand man” because I guess Woo couldn’t get Billy Zane. In many ways to me it was the spiritual follow up to STONE COLD. Not just because of sharing Henriksen as the baddie but because of the funny mullet the hero sports, the outrageous stunts involving a motorcycle and Vosloo being as memorable a #2 as William Forsythe was. I’m actually surprised it took Vern so long to turn around on it considering his admiration of STONE COLD but Vern it’s definitely cool to see that you did. Looking forward to the “real” review in the future.

  23. Robert Knepper just posted this on Instagram

    I guess he is in the sequel too.

  24. I guess I should be proud that a fellow countryman keeps getting to direct some of my fav action stars… but in reality I am annoyed every time his damn name shows up, because it means yet another title that could’ve had promise has suddenly become a guaranteed waste of time and effort for everyone involved.

    I’ll still watch this, but won’t be ordering the blu like I usually do with Adkins’ films (I even own Green Street 3 for God’s sake).

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