reviewed by Greta Christina
If you like gratuitously violent movies with lots of guns, blood, death, kickboxing, and stuff blowing up (and heck, who doesn't?), I strongly recommend Hard Target. Directed by John Woo, the acclaimed Hong Kong art-action film director, Hard Target is actually interesting, inventive, and not totally pointless. The camerawork is extraordinarily beautiful and imaginative. No, really. I'm serious. It doesn't have the usual lurid utilitarian docudrama style that distinguishes most action movies. It's full of freeze-frames and stop-action sequences and long silent close-ups that give the fights and explosions a strange dreamy quality; and it actually manages to make Jean-Claude Van Damme look good.
Now, Van Damme is not one of my favorite action guys. He's always struck me as wooden beyond belief, with the charisma of a gum wrapper and less acting talent than even Mel Gibson. Woo handles him well, however -- lots of kickboxing, lots of shooting, lots of moody smoldering stares, not too many lines. Between Woo's direction and the work of the camera crew, they somehow managed to make watching the guy a real pleasure. (However, trying to pass off the Belgian accent as Cajun was probably a mistake.) Woo was also very inventive in his choice of bad-guys. No drug lords or international terrorists here, folks. I'm not going to ruin it by telling you what the bad-guys' bad thing actually is, but I will say that I've never seen it done before.
The film isn't perfect. It's prone to the deadly Bad-Guys-Can't-Shoot syndrome, as well as the Dead-Meat syndrome (you can see who's going to bite it a mile away). The lack of sex scenes is a disappointment, especially since the film has such a weird erotic charge. And while Van Damme is more interesting than I've ever seen him before, he doesn't even begin to think about comparing to Chow Yun-Fat, Woo's more regular action star, in either charisma or talent.
Hard Target is Woo's first American production. I hope it does well enough to get his Hong Kong films released more widely in the U.S. I was really upset that Hard Boiled disappeared before I could see it, and I'd love a chance to see The Killer on a big screen. Blam!
Copyright 1993 Greta Christina. Originally published in San Francisco Bay Times.