Hard Target

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I was not ever a young man. I know that is hard to believe, but I wasn’t. So instead of spending my time watching the shittiest action flicks I can find, I instead wasted my time watching a ton of sappy romantic movies. (I have probably seen most of the romance movies that came out from 1996 to about 2003. It’s pretty bad) Because of this I was never exposed to Jean-Claude Van Damme. I feel like my life had been missing something until I watched this movie. Now I can die happy, knowing that I made time to watch a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

This movie is basically a riff on the Most Dangerous Game. You remember that story, right? The one in high school you were forced to read because your English teacher had no imagination. I don’t want to ruin the plot for you if by some chance you got out of reading this “classic” but I will anyway. The most dangerous game is hunting humans apparently. This time the most dangerous game is set in New Orleans and black, homeless veterans are the game. Jean-Claude Van Damme teams up with a very buxom young woman to find her father who disappeared. You might think that he just doesn’t want to be found, since he left his family and decided to live a homeless vagabond lifestyle. But that is not what happened. Instead Jean-Claude Van Damme figures out that these vaguely foreign entrepreneurs are setting up intricate city-wide hunting sprees for insanely rich clients.

Jean-Claude Van Damme moves through a world where everyone seems to know his name (which is Chance Boudreaux by the way… yeah.) and his broken plight is common knowledge. He also winks a lot at the camera, the main love interest and basically anyone on-screen with him. I found this slightly unnerving. Like I said before, I have never watched any other Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, so is this a common acting signature he has? Or was this a choice the director and him contemplated deeply before shooting? I hope that there were specific hour-long meetings just about whether or not he should wink at the person he is sharing a scene with. All joking aside, JCVD is an awful actor. But his acting skills do nothing but help this movie be even more enjoyable. When he swings his mullet around in order to pull off a sweet kick, his acting skills become secondary.

This movie is notable because it marks John Woo’s debut American film. He made a couple of really great action flicks in China before coming to America. Most notably for me is Hard Boiled, which features the best opening scene of all time: our protagonist pulls on a cigarette, takes a shot and exhales thus indicating that for the rest of the film he will be all kinds of badass. Woo’s excellent sense of over the top action is a perfect match for JCVD. Cars exploding, tons of jump kicks, and spectacular gun fights are what Woo does best. And this is also what JCVD does best as well. But Woo also seemed to know JCVD’s restrictions as an actor, because he was able to give us a truly great villain to spur on JCVD’s over the top rage. Lance Hendrickson will probably die while playing a villain. He is so spectacular as the growling vaguely foreign entrepreneur. He just mugs at the camera and you get chills go up your spine. He is great. All you need in a good action flick is a charismatic (even if it borders on creepy for most of the running time) protagonist and a truly despicable villain. Woo accomplished both things very well.

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