Hard Target (1993)

This is perhaps a bit too big and polished for us to review here at the ISCFC – directed by John Woo before he became a Chinese government propagandist, hefty budget, people you’ve heard of in starring roles – but they made a “sequel” last year starring Scott Adkins, and we love Scott Adkins, so we decided to watch this again for fun. If you’re a reader of this site, I’d be genuinely surprised if you’d not already seen it, so let’s take a wander through a real B-movie classic.

The presence of the cajun subculture in the USA is a huge boon to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s played one in multiple movies so he doesn’t have to hide his accent. He’s played characters like “Luc Devereaux” (the Universal Soldier series), “Frenchy”, “Philip Sauvage”, “Kyle LeBlanc” and here he’s “Chance Boudreaux”, the former soldier and now semi-drifter who’s brought into the orbit of Natasha “Nat” Binder (Yancy Butler, whose struggles with alcoholism aged her rather significantly so looks weirdly young here) pretty much by accident.

Nat is in New Orleans looking for her father, who she lost touch with many years ago. He was a former soldier who found life after the service to be difficult and slipped into a subculture of homelessness and infrequent labour; I’d say the movie had something interesting to say about how countries treat their soldiers but it’s all over the place politically, being vehemently anti-union too (the cop who helps them out, eventually, is the only scab as the rest of the police department is on strike).

We saw, though, from the first scene, that her father was killed by a group of scumbag “hunters”, led by Lance Henriksen with support from Arnold Vosloo (two actors with many, many ISCFC credits between them). Yes, it’s “The Most Dangerous Game” once again, as reviewed by us in “Death Chase”, “The Condemned” and “The Condemned 2”, “The Eliminator”, “Turkey Shoot”, “Deadly Run”, “Deadly Prey”, “Immortal Combat”, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten (as well as literally hundreds of movies we’ve not got round to covering yet), where wealthy people with an inexplicable desire to literally murder the underclass they’ve already successfully exploited pay a group of villains to help them hunt a person.

The cold open is one of these scenes, and it immediately poses a question. How excited would you be if your heavily armed, rested, well-trained group shot a completely defenceless, exhausted man? Because they all seem way too pleased at what they’ve done. Perhaps actual hunters are like that when they shoot a deer or whatever. “Look at me! I can kill things!”

But this is John Woo, who knows how to make an exciting action movie without too much rubbish in it, so it’s packed with incident. One of the friendly homeless former servicemen is picked as the next victim of the hunt, the villains discuss how they wait for a place to have problems (like a police strike, or a war) to move in and ply their trade undisturbed by the authorities, and Chance, Kat and the cop work their way through the underbelly of New Orleans to find what happened to Kat’s dad.

You know, of course, it’s going to be JCVD as the subject of the hunt at some point, but they don’t give it to us immediately because they have a plot and actors who can act and a budget and all the other things that ISCFC movies are almost always lacking. You want to see him kick a bunch of ass, and he does. There’s a combination of JCVD’s brilliant fight scenes of the time and Woo’s gun-battle expertise (Woo didn’t usually have a lot of hand-to-hand in his classic movies, if memory serves), and there’s rarely a dull moment.

Ted “brother of Sam” Raimi pops up in a brief cameo as a douchebag, and I was all “huh?” Then I checked the credits and Sam Raimi is one of the producers, along with Robert Tapert (the two of them have produced pretty much all Sam’s movies). How the hell did that happen?

Okay, I know how it happened, but it’s still a bit of a “huh?” answer. Due to John Woo’s limited command of English, Raimi was hired to oversee the production and take over direction if Woo was unable to direct the English crew. Makes sense until you think, why Sam Raimi? A possible answer is that he and Van Damme were thinking of working on another movie together a few years previously, and had perhaps become friends; given Van Damme’s cosmic-sized ego, maybe they wanted a friend on set in case he tried to take things over? I’d like to see a Raimi commentary on “Hard Target”, definitely.

I’ve not even mentioned Wilford Brimley and his super-unconvincing cajun accent; the scene where JCVD punches out a snake; or even the plot of the second half of the movie. Van Damme gets upset over the killing of his old friend Roper, the saintly homeless soldier who supplies the main cast with most of their information, and goes after Henriksen; he then offers some former clients the chance to hunt the ultimate prey for $750,000. Although after he shoots the first hunter for not being violent enough, if I was one of the other three guys, I’d have packed my guns up and gone home. Perhaps why I’m not a psychopath, maybe?

It’s a glorious movie, I reckon. All Woo’s trademarks are there – the doves, the slow motion, the bullet ballet – but it’s filtered through our favourite lunatic Belgian action hero. Apparently, Woo’s original cut was almost two hours long and focused much more on Henriksen (he and Arnold Vosloo, as his assistant, are fantastic together and I wish they’d done a lot more as a team) so JCVD and his editor locked themselves in a room for two days and cut it to the length we see now. I would love to see that version!

Every day where I don’t find out that Van Damme was a massive sex-pest in his prime is a good day; so I can still enjoy his classic movies, when studios gave him a budget, great co-stars and high-end directors (see also: Timecop, which we’ll cover soon). A true blending of Woo’s sensibilities with his star’s abilities, one of the great action movies of the era.

Rating: thumbs up

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Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther (1991)

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We have the good person behind Youtube channel “Godfrey Ho Cinema” to thank for this, and several subsequent, reviews. They’ve put up dozens of of the great man’s movies, and as a service to you, dear reader, I’ll watch some, more or all of them, and tell you what’s worth bothering with.

What’s sort of surprising is that Ho was influenced by other things. So far, his movies have existed outside time, sort of vaguely modern kung-fu / ninja efforts, but this one is definitely hugely inspired by John Woo. From pigeons (subbing for doves) in the middle of a battle, to good guy assassins, to elaborate (for Ho) gunplay, to moral ambiguity, it’s just surprising to see Ho try for something like this. It’s even more surprising that it’s not two films bolted together – none of this says it’s good, necessarily, but the sights have been set a little higher.

 

Betty (Sibelle Hui) is in the CIA, despite looking like a suburban mother just back from taking her kids to school. She and her partner discover a counterfeit money ring, and this takes them to Thailand; also on their way there are two assassins, Eileen (Maria Jo) and Amy (Yoko Miyamoto), who are set up doing jobs in Japan and Hong Kong – this has the potential to be a classic Ho mashup, but the three women meet relatively early in proceedings. So, Eileen and Amy are both assigned the same job, to kill the boss of the crime family in charge of the counterfeiting, because his nephew wants to take over…it’s all a bit silly, but it seems Ho is really trying, doing some nice intercutting of the two women’s lives and jobs. Then they’re assigned to kill each other!

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Every scene is one of three things. It’s either a bullet-storm, a kung-fu fight, or sex. The sex is plentiful and rather graphic, which ensured its Cat III rating (basically, an 18 / NC-17), with women being stripped completely naked, multiple full frontal shots, while the men keep their trousers on at all times they’re shot below the waist. There’s one scene in a strip club where the only thing in a fairly lengthy shot is the “middle area” of a naked lady, which is more unusual than anything else.

 

Because it would literally be impossible for this time and this culture to make a movie where women were in charge and their thoughts and feelings were paramount, a surprising / annoying amount of the plot is driven by their menfolk. Eileen has a brother who’s just channelling Chow Yun Fat (he’s supposed to be living in France) and a boss who’s unable to shoot any more due to the shakes; and Amy has a boyfriend who’s also an assassin. Although their on-screen time is relatively short, it’s their plotlines which dominate the movie, and the casual indifference the movie shows when Eileen’s brother just straight up murders another main cast member is pretty amazing. Although saying that, Betty stakes a guy out to the ground and is about to run over him with a truck (to get information) but he has a heart attack and dies – no-one gives a damn.

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There’s a couple of very curious choices towards the end. Eileen and Amy are taken in and helped by a woman who must have heard the raging gun battle going on on her lawn, yet appears entirely unfazed by it – it turns out she’s a prostitute, who casually picked that line of work to allow her to keep her enormous mansion. After bonding with the two ladies, patching them up and letting them live with her, she says “at least my job is safe, unless the men have AIDS”, delivered the same way you’d talk about changing the sort of milk you used.

 

My favourite, though, is the plight of the brother. He’s sent away to France as a kid, to escape the life of murder that plagues Eileen’s family, but they’re so appallingly racist there, they torture him to the extent he can’t continue at school and decides to become an assassin instead. You know, that old career route!

 

The sex is weird and creepy (you’ve not lived til you’ve seen a guy squeeze milk over a woman’s crotch, from a condom with a hole pricked in the end), the actual hand-to-hand combat is fine, and the gun battles are sub-sub-Woo, but at least they try. They don’t try with the soundtrack, which is just straight lifts from other movies – keep an ear out for the “Halloween” theme, just accompanying some random scene.

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Unlike so much of Ho’s work, it’s able to focus all its efforts on one goal, and that’s being the best damned B-movie it can be (it’s only missing a car chase, really).  It’s trashy, but it never lets up for a minute, and if you can ignore it’s supposed to be about strong women, but is really driven by the actions and decisions of their men, it’s fun to see such a female centred movie – it’s a whole genre, girls with guns, apparently, although I don’t imagine any of them are much better than this. By a mile, the most coherent Godfrey Ho movie we’ve yet covered, although not quite the most entertaining.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle