In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.
The year was 1993. Action heroes were required to have long hair, a leather duster, and an unplaceable accent. Filmmakers like John Woo were imbuing American blockbusters with Hong Kong style. The size of an explosion was a very serious metric by which film could be judged, and for all the machismo on display for the boys, oftentimes our hero would display his rear end for the ladies, who were very into “buns” at the time. It didn’t matter if the plot was ridiculous and the people on screen didn’t act like humans. All that mattered was ass-kickings, motorcycles, and that thing where an action hero punches a dude who is behind him without looking. A well-permed lady swoons while a fashionable/unhinged villain, typically Gary Busey or Lance Henriksen, commits crimes because violence gets him all horned up.
It was a wild time, and even though a lot of elements of this era’s films are now dated, it was a relatively pure period for the genre. Audiences didn’t expect strong character work, sensical dialogue, or plot logic. Questions of what a film is “really” about could only be answered with “they switched faces so he could get into the magnet-boot prison.” All we wanted were thrills (and the occasional set of buns). Everything else was secondary.
It was with this lens of nostalgia that I was privileged to revisit the John Woo/Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Hard Target, which is soon to be available from the fine folks at Kino Lorber (available starting 12/7). Stacked with special features and a GORGEOUS new 4K transfer, it’s never been a better time to add the movie where Van Damme punches a rattlesnake unconscious to your collection.
If you’re not familiar with the film, Hard Target was John Woo’s American debut, and it featured Van Damme at the height of his celebrity. The star had literally just finished shooting Timecop (which was ultimately released after Hard Target), and jumped directly to Woo’s film on the promise of it being a watershed moment for action cinema. It was and it wasn’t, at least not at the time, but nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find an action fan that hasn’t seen it. In it, Van Damme plays Chance Boudreaux, a drifter who has been hired by a woman (Yancy Butler) to find her missing father. Chance soon discovers an underground operation run by Lance Henriksen and Arnold “the muthafuggen mummy” Vosloo, in which homeless men with military experience are hunted for sport. Basically, it’s a riff on The Most Dangerous Game, but with many more face-kicks and one-liners (none of which make any sense in context). Also, Wilford Brimley shows up and does action shit, up to and including killing people with a bow and arrow and then riding his horse to safety as everything around him explodes. It’s incredible.
The new disc is worth purchasing on the strength of the transfer alone. You can see every lick of practical flame, every reflection on the head of Brimley’s many arrows, and every drop of sweat as it caresses Van Damme’s iconic forehead lump. But if this isn’t enough for you, the disc is pretty stacked. Brand new interviews with John Woo, Yancy Butler, and Lance Henriksen are all a joy, and the discussion with stunt coordinator Billy Burton is downright educational, with much added resonance here in a modern action landscape. The best special feature is, hands down, the feature commentary with action film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder. I thought I was a scholar on this kind of thing, but their knowledge put me to shame, and set my brain alight with tons of new information.
If you love Hard Target, this new release is the finest edition yet. If you haven’t seen Hard Target, this is a great place to start. And if you hate Hard Target, you are wrong, and your penance will be to purchase a copy. I don’t make the rules.
Brand new 4K restoration of the unrated international cut, made from a 4K scan of the original camera negative!
New interviews with John Woo, Lance Hendrickson, Yancy Butler, and stunt coordinator Billy Burton.
New audio commentary from action film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder.
5.1 Surround & 2.0 lossless stereo