Cast and Crew: John Woo (director), Kodo (soundtrack); Jean-Claude Van Damme, Yancy Butler, Arnold Vasloo (The Mummy), Willie Carpenter, Lance Henrickson.
What it’s About: When a homeless vet goes missing in New Orleans, his estranged daughter (Yancy Butler) stumbles upon underemployed bayou badass Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) and convinces him to help find her father. The two soon find themselves up against a depraved criminal enterprise that offers affluent clients the unique opportunity to hunt human prey.
Why Watch it Today: “The Most Dangerous Game” was originally published in Collier’s Weekly on this day in 1924, and has been inspiration for countless human safari books and movies. John Woo’s Hollywood debut may not be his finest directorial effort, but he wisely plays his Hong Kong pyrotechnics, quick-cut cinematography, and stylized “gun-fu” choreography as minor roles, granting the legendary legwork of his action star center stage.
Van Damme and Woo never again team up for a feature film. Woo may have felt constrained by his new Hollywood masters, and Van Damme may have felt unsteady with a director lacking experience in Hollywood effects and stunts. Director and star fumble the Big Easy setting and can’t breathe sequel-grade life into its hero, Chance Boudreax. Van Damme contorting his Brussels-sprouting English into an Acadian inflection is sublimely preposterous, making Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempts at playing a Russian cop in Red Heat sound eminently reasonable. Look out for Arnold Vasloo (The Mummy), who steals his scenes with psychotic bad-guy gusto.
A Belgian kickboxer playing a Cajun homeless man as directed by a Chinese filmmaker with a California crew may not be as much of a novelty today, but then again, maybe it still is. While Van Damme fans may prefer Bloodsport due to its superior concentration of kickboxing mayhem, and Woo fans Hard Boiled for its inexhaustible supply of bullet-ridden bodies, Hard Target still delivers where it counts–fast-paced manhunts, machine guns ripping through mooks, Van Damme roundhousing people, and shit exploding on a regular basis.
My brother and I are “Most Dangerous Game” rip-off nuts. The surest way to that man’s heart is to run a variant of this story and I think I lost count of how many times he used the plot when we were still playing role-playing games together…including a bayou variant long before this film was released. I avoided this for years due to the Van Damme, but I finally caught it last year with BVH, who finds Van Damme the least irritating of the late 80s/early 90s action stars. My personal favorite things about this, besides when Woo manages to be Woo, are the supporting cast. Lance Henriksen and Arnold Voosloo make great bad guys, and who doesn’t love Wilford Brimley, Cajun Commando? I nearly busted a gut when we saw him riding off hollering with a bow in his hand.
Yes, remiss of me not to document the Brimley scenes. It feels like a whole ‘nother film, but for camp value, his presence puts Hard Target over the edge.
They definitely don’t seem to belong, though I can’t imagine them being forced on Woo-I don’t think many test audiences demand more Brimley action scenes nor can I imagine a studio exec saying “we need some cross over appeal with the Quaker Oatmeal demo”.