"He's an annoying little fucking insect and I want him stepped on. Hard."
--Emil Fouchon, "Hard Target"
I remember when the movie "Hard Target" hit the theaters in 1993. I was 13 years old, in 7th grade, and I wanted to see it, bad. My friend Chad was a huge Jean-Claude Van Damme fan, and he raved about it. The problem was that it was rated "R" and my parents had a pretty strict policy against rated "R" movies. So I didn't see it.
As I got older and moved out on my own, I started watching some of the rated "R" movies I'd missed as a kid. I had a lot of catching up to do. Friends would make references to 80s and 90s action and horror movies and I wanted to be "in the loop". So I watched "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." I watched "A Nightmare on Elm Street." I watched all the "Die Hard" and "Terminator" movies. But, for some reason, I never watched "Hard Target"…until tonight…19 years after it was released.
What a rush. It's a "Damme" good action movie, full of scissor kicks and slow-mo shots and motorcycle chases. I think it is Van Damme's finest work. To my knowledge, this is the only movie where Van Damme sports a full-blown mullet that is constantly slicked back into curly wet snakes. (Spoiler alert: He actually uses a snake as a weapon at one point in the film.) He wears a full denim outfit and orange work boots, which make him very relatable, as an "everyman" type hero.
Van Damme plays Chance Boudreaux, a down-on-his luck cajun boatman. Except this quiet boatman has a background in covert military training, and if pushed too hard, he can turn into a scissor-kicking, horse riding, shotgun-wielding "ragin' cajun". Which he does, when two European weirdos decide to hunt him through the bayou. Boy, did they ever pick the wrong cajun to fuck with.
The romantic relationship between Chance and Natasha "Nat" Binder could use a little more development. But, as in most action movies targeted to the male 15-45 demographic, the romance is really more of an afterthought, a little icing in the cake. In this case, the "cake" is two hours of bustin' skulls and blowin' stuff up, cajun-style (which means "extra hot"). It doesn't hurt that Natasha is also extra hot, except for a couple scenes where her "bruised face" makeup makes her look like she has herpes (aka not hot).
"Hard Target" is director John Woo's first attempt at an American film, and it set the stage for his other action masterpieces like "Broken Arrow" and "Face/Off". In my view, the one wrinkle in John Woo's filmmaking career was "Mission Impossible II" (aka M:I 2). Except for the epic motorcycle crash-fight, that movie almost caused the Mission Impossible franchise to crash and burn. Nobody's perfect, even John Woo.
But you know what is perfect? "Hard Target."