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HARD TARGET

Film Credits
Director: John Woo
Producers: James Jacks,Sean Daniel
Excutive Producers:Moshe Diamant,Sam Raimi,Robert Tapert
Written by: Chuck Pfarrer
Film Editor: Bob Murawski
Co-Producers:Terence Chang,Chuck Pfarrer
Music by:Graeme Revell(featuring Kodo)
Director of Photography:Rusell Carpenter
Production Designer:Phil Dagort

Production Notes
After making the excellent Hard Boiled, director John Woo was approached by Hollywood executives with an offer to direct the Van Damme action vehicle,Hard Target. Woo was initially impressed by the original script and the sincerity of the actor and studios enough to sign on to direct his Hollywood debut. Screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer wrote the original screenplay based on the cult film The Most Dangerous Game which a demented millionaire sportsman lured his human prey to a remote island. Cult director Sam Raimi along with producer Robert Tapert agreed to act as executive producers to the film but word was the studio hired Raimi as a back-up director in case Woo couldn't deliver. Raimi who happens to be a big John Woo fan was happy to work alongside with John Woo and even backed Woo up when a sceptic producer expressed his worry about letting Woo handle a big Hollywood film.
However, it was a learning experience the director would never forget. In Hong Kong, directors are kings; producers simply stump up the cash and let them get on with it. In Hollywood of course the profit-motivated producers often calls the shots. Before long, Woo was writing long letters to his friends in Hong Kong, bemoaning a system where directors, especially unproven Asian ones are cogs in the machine. Worse still, edgy Universal Studios was keeping John Woo at a tight leash, forcing him to stick with the agreed storyboard,a disaster for the man who was known for on-set improvisation. As a result, Woo was unable to bring his fresh innovative ideas to the film as the studios were afraid that the film might exceed the proposed budget and shooting schedule. For example, Woo initially dreamed up a speedboat chase for the second half of the film but actor Jean Claude preferred his idea of Chance having a frantic gun-fight with a helicopter while riding a horse. Thus the speedboat chase was scrapped but Woo eventually included it in his future Hollywood hit Face/Off. Worse still, valuable scenes ended up on the cutting floor as it didn't suit the average Van Damme fan who prefer their Belgium star to kick his way through to the end rather than shoot his way through. Among them,a valuable love scene was lost and Woo was forced to re-shoot the ending when many of the preview audiences complain it lacked the high flying kicks of Van Damme. To add salt to the wound, when John Woo finally fill the screen with enough gunfire,the US censorship refuse to issue the film a R-certificate,noting that it was much too violent and granted it a NC-17 rating.Going back into the editing studio, Woo had to pared the film down, several times in fact because the people at the censorship did not give him a clear picture on which scenes were too violent.Things got so out of hand, a third person was brought in to edit the film, resulting in a much "watered-down" John Woo picture.
Woo did however added a few new gunplay skills to his already impressive repertoire, including the flying reload for slamming new magazines into automatic pistols at a dead run or even while leaping through the air,allowing Van Damme the opportunity to unleash a fury of bullets in rapid success without violating credibility. One spectacular piece of gunplay trick Van Damme executes in Hard Target is an old Navy Seals trick that Woo adopted after witnessing an on-set demonstration by Ex-Navy Seals Mark Stefanich who serves as Jean Claude Van Damme principal stunt double. By holding a semi-automatic pistol upside down and fanning the trigger with an index finger, the actor produces a spray of bullets which sounds remarkably like machine gun fire.

Storyline
Lance Henriksen plays Emil Fouchon, a ruthless businessman who runs a game of high-stakes hunting-with human as prey. When Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) comes to town looking for her father, she gets more than what she bargains for. Enlisting the help of a ex-war veteran Chance Boudreaux (Jean Claude Van Damme) ,the two who soon stumbles upon his evil safari. Being a ex-war veteran himself, Chance is the one person whom Fouchon cannot seem to beat, which makes him the ultimate trophy.

Review
Despite it's bad response from critics(now, which Van Damme movie ever got good response from critics ? ), Hard Target is not that bad of a movie. John Woo fans like myself would learn to like this movie mainly because of it's beautifully- choreographed action sequences.
For sheer action, Hard Target is right up there with John Woo other best works such as Hard Boiled . In fact, many of it's action scenes were "borrowed" from his 1992 classic Hard Boiled , making us wonder if director John Woo still has his mind on Hard Boiled while filming this movie. For instance, during the Hard Target finale Natasha gets slapped on the face by a thug right before she blows him away with a berreta , a scene familiar to the one in Hard Boiled . Van Damme may not be the perfect candidate for a John Woo hero but he definitely provides a change with his fancy martial art moves and graceful kicks. In one of the movie's early scenes, director Woo choreographed one of the best fight sequences I have ever seen, when Van Damme takes on a couple of street thugs trying to rob Natasha.
The storyline for Hard Target is also pretty good( far better than his follow-up, Broken Arrow ), though not necessarily original ( it was a re-make of The Most Dangerous Game)
Having view the original MPAA-approved version, the European extended version and most recently,the working print; here are my thoughts on the three versions. The working print may have some good scenes but there are also several bad scenes that proved the editor's judgement were pretty sound. The important romance scene is definitely a must-watch and one of Van Damme's best moments on the film. However aside from that, there really isn't much on the working print worth watching, save perhaps Van Cleaf's hunting skills and some classic lines by Emil Fouchon. There are also some bad scenes which you might want to skip if you are watching the workprint such as the male-bonding dance sequence between Van Damme and his uncle Douvee and the animal hunting sequence playing in Fouchon's mind. My advice is try to get hold of the workprint in a trade, don't pay a sky-high price because it's just not worth it plus Woo doesn't get any money for it (or Van Damme for that matter). The picture and sound quality are usually bad so if you are used to watching Hard Target in 16X9 widescreen with 5.1 Dolby surround sound, you might want to avoid this too. Instead try to get hold of the European Laserdisc or DVD to get the extra 3 minutes of footage (included in the workprint) in widescreen and 5.1 Dolby surround.
Finally, Hard Target is one film which director John Woo has certainly not wasted his time on, as it's the "muscles from Brussels" best picture to date and a career achievement for the director being the first Asian director to direct a Hollywood action picture.

[A Better Tomorrow] [A Better Tomorrow II] [Just Heroes] [The Killer] [Bullet In The Head] [Once A Thief] [Hard Boiled] [Broken Arrow] [Once A Thief TV Pilot] [Face/Off] [The Replacement Killers] [Blackjack] [The Big Hit] [Mission Impossible 2]


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