Hard Target was John Woo’s Hollywood debut and it feels that way. Woo brings his aesthetic and romantic earnestness that made The Killer and Hard Boiled so successful and merges them with a big western studio’s creative mandates, namely star Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The two reportedly got along fine on set and, in retrospectives (included on this disc), speak fondly about the experience if not about the end result. When they met, the two of them could barely speak English. The resulting film is a Western / murder-mystery with elements of The Most Dangerous Game that feels filtered through both the European masculinity of Van Damme (who looks great in light denim) and Woo’s Hong Kong action-choreography ethos — set in, of all places, the decidedly non-frontier Deep South city of New Orleans and its surrounding bayou. Its cross-cultural genesis is certainly as messy as its Belgian leading man’s wild, greasy mane of curly hair.
Frankly, it’s awesome.
Van Damme is Chance Boudreaux, named as such because his mother took a chance. He happens to save Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) after a back-alley rape attempt by thugs who accost her as she searches for the man who murdered her homeless father. Natasha subsequently hires the reluctant Boudreaux to help her solve the mystery, and the two are pulled into a conspiracy involving a wealthy hunter, Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen), who hires homeless war veterans as his prey. Henriksen knows how to ham it up as action bad guys (see Stone Cold, if you haven’t), and he’s wonderful here, a charismatic villain opposite the chronically stone-faced Van Damme.
Because it was his first film in the states, Woo’s film famously exists in multiple cuts with varying levels of availability. The theatrical cut is the one to which most Americans grew accustomed. Kino Lorber’s new special edition offers the 100-minute Unrated International Cut, which boasts additional violence and gore that was cut from the theatrical version. It’s not the longest cut available, but it’s better looking than the workprint cuts that have no official release. This new set is available in both 4K UHD (not provided for review purposes) and regular Blu-ray, which looks pretty great anyway. Sure, you can see the Van Damme stuntman’s face as he rides the motorcycle over a fallen foe and through a fireball but, well, it’s not like we believed it was him, right?
Special features include new and never-before-included interviews with Woo, Henriksen, Butler and stunt coordinator Billy Burton. A new audio commentary accompanies the set as well, featuring action-film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder.