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Hard Target - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
After climbing to the top of the Hong Kong film industry and earning international acclaim as one of the greatest action directors in the world, director John Woo made his Hollywood debut with 1993's Hard Target. Starring Jean Claude Van Damme at the height of his popularity, the movie is presented on this UHD/Blu-ray combo pack from Kino Lorber in its one-hundred minute unrated ‘International Cut' with a host of new extra features.
But before we get into that, the movie! Deep in the heart of New Orleans, Douglas Binder (played by the film's writer Chuck Pfarrer) is being hunted. A man named Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his right hand man Pik van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo) have given him a money belt with ten grand in cash inside. He Douglas, a homeless vet, can make it across town he gets to keep the cash and his life. Fouchon's clients have paid handsomely for the opportunity to hunt a human, and it doesn't end well for poor Binder.
Meanwhile, Binder's daughter, Natasha (Yancy Butler), shows up in town hoping to reunite with her old man only to get mugged. Thankfully for her, a homeless martial artist and former Marine named Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) shows up just in time to save her. Clearly skilled in the way she isn't, Natasha hires a reluctant Chance to help her track down her father and protect her from whatever dangers might be waiting for her in New Orleans. Natasha connects her father to a man named Randal Poe (Eliott Keener) who, unbeknownst to her, is the man who has been connecting Fouchon with the homeless men he's been hunting, knowing that their combat experience will make them a challenge but that their homeless status means they won't be missed. When Binder's burnt corpse is discovered in the city, Detective Marie Mitchell (Kasi Lemmons) has no choice but to start investigating, but Chance finds something she doesn't when he comes across Binder's dogtags, pierced by what he knows was a bolt from a crossbow. Van Cleef and his thugs realize that Chance and Natasha are investigating their racket, and take it upon themselves to get rid of anyone who might be able to connect them to all of this. When things get dangerous, Chance has Natasha hide out with his Uncle Douvee (Wilford Brimley) out in the bayou, but Van Cleef and Fouchon aren't going to take any of this lightly.
Hard Target is a seriously good action film. Yes, you can find logic gaps in it and easily point to clichéd characters and Van Damme's questionable acting in some of the film's more dramatic moments but when it's time to fight, shoot, chase or blow stuff up, the movie hits a lot of the right notes at a lot of the right moments. Despite his ridiculous permed mullet, Van Damme moves with a savage grace in this picture and Woo, ever the stylist, ensures that he's captured from just the right angle every single time. The movie builds nicely to a very intense, and ridiculously intense, finale that takes place in a ‘Mardi Gras Graveyard' (which is a warehouse full of old parade floats) that proves to be the perfect place for Woo to unleash his considerable talent for staging high octane gun-fu sequences that are, if not particularly realistic, pure eye candy in the best possible way.
While Van Damme might not show much range here, he doesn't need to. Woo and company were savvy enough to surround him with a strong supporting cast. Yancy Butler typically plays tougher women than she does in this picture but she's well-cast as Natasha, likeable and vulnerable at the same time. Kasi Lemmons is pretty solid as the cop involved in all of this, and Wilford Brimley somehow completely amazing as Chance's surly uncle, particularly when he's riding around on horseback raising hell and taking on the bad guys. You don't expect to see Wilford Brimley kick ass in an action film, he was no spring chicken when he made this picture, but kick ass he does and the movie is all the better for having him in it. As far as the bad guys go, Lance Henriksen is perfect here as the man in charge, chewing just enough scenery to create a memorable character while Arnold Vosloo is equally good and surprisingly intense as the strong, silent type.
Hard Target arrives on UHD from Kino in an HEVC/H.265 encoded transfer in 2160p framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with both HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhancement. While the skin tones look pinkish, almost as if the characters have been sunburned, for the most part this is a really nice looking transfer. The film's warm color scheme is reproduced quite nicely and we get strong black levels evident throughout. There's a significant amount of detail noticeable here that isn't quite as obvious on the included Blu-ray disc, and better depth and texture to the picture as well. There are no problems with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts and while a natural amount of film grain is present, the picture is otherwise in great shape showing very little actual print damage outside of a few white specks now and then.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc has issues, as the left and right channels are reversed. You can notice this in a few key scenes where sound effects are coming from the opposite side of where they should be in the mix. Quality is fine otherwise, but as Kino is aware of this and making a replacement disc available, we'll reserve commenting on the quality in too much detail until one of those discs is in hand. Optional subtitles are provided in English and a DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also provided (which doesn't have the problem that the 5.1 mix does, but it has some weird problems of its own where rare channels are used for some reason!).
The only extra on the UHD is an audio commentary featuring ‘action film historians' Brandon Bently and Mike Leeder. The start off by noting the similarities to The Most Dangerous Game as well as Cannon Film's Avenging Force, how they both came to know John Woo's cinema, the MPAA's issues with the film and its violence and the differences between the R-rated cut and the unrated cut included here, John Woo's earlier workprint cut that runs two hours plus, the film's score, the stunt work featured in the picture and, of course, plenty of details about Van Damme's career and work in this picture. They also cover the contributions of the other cast and crew members, the film's trailer, the reaction to the film when it came out and how it blended Hong Kong style 'heroic bloodshed' movies with more traditional American action films and quite a bit more. It's an interesting talk and one worth listening to.
The included Blu-ray contains the same audio commentary as well as quite a few other supplements starting with the excellent From Hard Boiled to Hard Target, a thirteen minute interview with John Woo where he talks about the differences between the Hong Kong and Hollywood systems, his thoughts on working with Chuck Pfarrer and with Van Damme (who he says really loved Hong Kong film), getting along with his producers (especially Sam Raimi), his personal love of Alain Delon's films and Van Damme's resembelnce to him from certain angles, the importance of making his actors look great, changes that were made to the dialogue during the shoot, borrowing from the end of Hard-Boiled for the ending of this movie, running into issues getting final approval after editing the film with Bob Murawski, having more creative freedom in Hong Kong than in Hollywood and what he learned about Hollywood and America from working on the film.
Henriksen vs Van Damme is a nine minute interview with Lance Henriksen that goes over how he got his start doing live theater before making the movie to film work, how much he loved working with John Woo and how well they got along on set, getting some changes made to the script based on his input, his appreciation for New Orleans, adlibbing on the film, why his character uses the gun he has in the film, the musicality of the picture and Woo's work and trying to be authentic on camera.
Yancy Butler is up next in the fifteen minute Hard Times In The Big Easy where she covers how she got her start as an actress, not knowing Van Damme or Woo before getting the role for the film, how much she liked the script, what it was like shooting in New Orleans and why she brought her mom along for the ride, riding horses with Wilford Brimley (who really got her horse going at a clip!) and his love of a fart machine that was on set, working with Henriksen and Vosloo and, of course, what JCVD was like to work with. She talks about what she learned on the set, being petrified of the action set pieces and the snakes in the movie, getting injured during the shooting of a motorbike scene, how great Woo was to work with despite the studio breathing down his neck the entire time, how much fun she had on set, filming the love scene that was later cut, Jean Claude's infamous mullet and how proud she is of having been in the film.
The last featurette is Gun Fu And Van Dammage, which interviews stunt coordinator Billy Burton for nine minutes. This piece covers the importance of having action that enhances characters and tells a story, how he got his start working on westerns in the sixties as a stuntman, working with Hal Needham, having to slowdown as he got older and getting into doing stunt coordination and second unit directing work, working on Nowhere To Run before Hard Target, interviewing with Woo, how he had a wonderful time on set and how his portion of the shoot went really smoothly, his appreciation for the cast, using his daughter as a stunt person on the film, the great storyboards that he had to use and how Woo was so great to work with.
Finishing up the extras on the disc are trailers for Hard Target, No Retreat No Surrender, Hero And The Terror, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Running Scared, Black Moon Rising, Avenging Force and Revenge Of The Ninja as well as static menus and chapter selection. This release also comes packaged with a slipcover.
Note that in regards to the audio on the included Blu-ray disc, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is fine, whereas the 2.0 track mirrors that found on the UHD in that it's a bit of a mess.
As far as early nineties Hollywood action movies go, Hard Target is up there with the best of them. Kino's UHD/Blu-ray combo pack has some botched audio on it, but a replacement program is in the works. It might be worth waiting until that's sorted out before purchasing, but once it is, you're left with a disc that gives the movie a really nice 4k presentation and extra features that are interesting and plentiful and which do a really nice job of covering the film's complicated history. Highly recommended (assuming that audio gets fixed).
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.