Hard Target (1993) will always go down as “John Woo’s first American film.” But, it should also go down as a hell of a crazy movie. Crazy in an entertaining way no less (at least to me).
In Hard Target you have a movie with mid-prime Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen (who always excels at crazy), the guy who played the Mummy in The Mummy, and Wilfred Brimley as a Cajun moonshiner. Add strange guns, motorcycles, Van Damme’s martial arts, John Woo’s over-the-top style, and you have a highly entertaining 97 minutes of celluloid.
Did I mention at one point Van Damme fires a pistol while holding it upside down?
Oh man, does he ever. I don’t mean twisting his arm around either, I mean holding the gun like he doesn’t know which end is up. It is brilliant in its absurdity — and I love it.
In Woo’s oeuvre, Hard Target comes right after Hard Boiled (1992) — a film every action fan must watch (and subtitled, not dubbed). If you watch Hard Boiled and Hard Target back to back (and why not?) you will notice a few things: John Woo loves guys firing automatic weapons atop motorcycles, and doves. Yes, doves. One even leads Van Damme to a clue.
An aside: Woo’s The Killer (1989) is another must watch.
Back to Hard Target: Jean-Claude Van Damme’s hair. Oh. My. Goodness. It is a sight to behold. His mullet is the stuff of legends, so much that I immediately thought of it while drawing a comic about mullets.
And let us not forget Mr. Oatmeal himself, Wilfred Brimley. In his finest work since Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Brimley plays Van Damme’s recluse, moonshiner uncle. With a Cajun accent no less. It is glorious.
The only thing more glorious is when Van Damme punches a snake and [spoiler alert] bites off its rattle. It is a jaw dropping moment, and I could watch the scene on repeat all day.
Has Woo made better movies? Yes, of course (again, see: The Killer and Hard Boiled). Is Hard Target perfect? Absolutely not. But, does that matter? No. Hard Target is fun — and it is a great time capsule of early 1990s action films.