Updated: Mar 3, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
International action star Jean-Claude Van Damme sports a mullet as Chance Boudreaux, a merchant seaman hired by Natasha ‘Nat’ Binder (Yancy Butler), to find her missing father, a homeless Vietnam veteran in New Orleans.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, 1992, unrated international cut – graphic violence, language and smoking
Best extra: A recent interview with director John Woo
HONG KONG director John Woo never planned to make movies in Hollywood. But after a series of highly successful and influential thrillers starring Chow Yun-Fat – “A Better Tomorrow” (1986), “The Killer” (1989), and “Hard Boiled” (1992) – American producers lined up to sign Woo on.
To make “better movies I had to come to America,” Woo says in a recent interview found on the enclosed Blu-ray. His first Hollywood film was to be a mystery martial arts film produced by Oliver Stone, but the studio offered an “Insulting salary,” so he and his agent turned them down.
Then producers James Jacks and Sam Raimi, plus Belgium action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, flew to Hong Kong to pitch Universal’s action film “Hard Target.” Woo was impressed with their enthusiasm and desire to have him helm the project. He signed the dotted line, becoming the first Asian director of a major Hollywood studio film.
(1&2) Wealthy marksman Mr. Lopaki (Bob Apisa) takes aim with his high-powered arrow gun toward Doug, a homeless Vietnam Vet played by the screenwriter and former Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer. (3) A shed explodes during the manhunt on a Mississippi River levee. (4) Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) the manhunt organizer congratulates Lopaki on the kill.
Woo’s first impression of Van Damme was positive: “He’s got a good face… and he looks a lot like my idol, legendary French actor Alain Delon.” The director was enthralled by his leading actor’s finesse and style. “When he turns into that sidekick, he looks believable and pretty,” Woo says. He mentions how Van Damme was drawn to his character, Chance Boudreaux. The part came with a “romantic interest” in Natasha ‘Nat’ Binder, played by 21-year-old Yancy Butler, daughter of Joe Butler, drummer for 1960s band, The Lovin’ Spoonful.
John Woo considers his greatest triumph in filmmaking has been his ability to create action stars. He credits himself with transforming Chow Yun-Fat into one of the world’s greatest, even though the actor “had never punched a guy in his life, and knew nothing about Kung Fu or guns,” Woo says. “I had so many tricks to make him and others look like they’re fighting and firing a gun dramatically.”
The Belgium actor was already a seasoned action star. Van Damme began his martial arts training at 11, and went on to win a European professional middleweight championship as a teenager to become the No. 2 fighter in the world. He finished with an 18-1 knockout record, using his trademark leap – a 360-degree turn-kick. In 1981, he arrived in the U.S.,took English classes, and worked odd jobs as a carpet layer, pizza deliverer, and limo driver. Actor/martial arts champion Chuck Norris got him a job as a club bouncer. He also placed Van Damme in his first on-screen role in Norris’ Vietnam War thriller, “Missing in Action” (1984).
Set in New Orleans and the Bayou region of Louisiana, “Hard Target” was filmed over 65 days in 1991. Its storyline is loosely based on Richard Connell’s 1924 big-game short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which humans become targets in a game located on an isolated Caribbean Island. The story was first adapted in 1932, starring Joel McCrea and Fay Wray.
(1) Natasha arrives in New Orleans from Michigan looking for her father. (2) Chance is inside of the Half Moon Cafe when Natasha walks in with a wad of cash. (3-5) Everyone sees the money and she’s attacked by thugs and Chance comes to the rescue.
In “Hard Target,” Van Damme plays a merchant seaman hired by Natasha Binder to find her missing father, a homeless Vietnam veteran played by former-Navy SEAL and the film’s screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer. He served on SEAL teams Four and Six, and survived the Beirut Marine barracks bombing of October 1983.
The highbrow, scene-stealing villain and his menacing henchman – Emil Fouchon and Pik van Cleaf – are played by an intense Lance Henriksen (“Aliens,”1986), and South African actor Arnold Vosloo (“The Mummy,” 1999). They orchestrate the manhunts using veterans in need of fast money. Fouchon promises them $10,000 in cash if they win, but high-powered rifles and archery stack the odds as the hunt zigzags through the Big Easy and the French Quarter. The villains collect over $100,000 per wealthy sportsmen who want to participate, win or lose.
Kino Lorber provides the 4K remastered unrated international cut, which Woo now considers his director’s cut. It runs three minutes longer, with a higher body count accompanied by intense gore. Woo utilized his trademark freeze frame and slow-motion action throughout, with several fireball explosions. A great moment comes when Fouchon, coat ablaze, continues to rant while inside a building going down in flames. The finale takes place in a fiery warehouse filled with huge Mardi Gras floats.
“Hard Target” opened August 20, 1993, going up against Harrison Ford’s performance as Dr. Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive.” Woo’s film finished second that weekend at $10 million; its final worldwide box office topped $74 million. American critics gave it mixed reviews, but audiences still came out to see Van Damme in action.
(1&2) Homeless vet Elijah Roper (Willie C. Carpenter) gives Natasha her father's suitcase, which had a number of letters she sent. (3) Seedy recruiter Randal Poe (Eliott Keener) who provides Henriksen's with vets for his manhunts is confronted by Henriksen and his lieutenant Pik van Cleaf. (4-6) Henriksen takes aim with his single-shot Thompson Contender to kill Chance Boudreaux.
The 4K and Blu-ray discs include an engaging commentary from action film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder, based in Hong Kong. He visited Van Damme, who also has a home there, and found a series of Woo autographed laserdisc jackets of his best Asian films. Bentley admits he saw “Hard Target” as a child, much earlier in his life than he should have since his father regularly took him to see R-rated action flicks.
The Blu-ray includes four featurette interviews and the best with Woo.
Lance Henriksen, in another interview, says he and Woo hit it off right from the start saying, “We laughed and he told me his life story,” as they sat on New Orleans’ street corners, talking during production breaks. Henriksen was the one who suggested the idea of the veteran’s running with a $10K money belt. Plus, he requested the use of a single-shot Thompson Contender, using .45-70 shells to blast the hero during one of the chase scenes.
Yancy Butler provides a number of backstories. She first tried to be a model to help pay her student loans, but was considered too short at five feet-seven inches. She then decided to get into acting, with her first major role on NBC’s “Law and Order.” She had never seen any of Van Damme’s movies, but did a VHS crash course before shooting “Hard Target.” “I don’t do dames in distress well; I’m a stronger character than that,” she says. Butler considered Van Damme her “ultimate protector,” even though he had to redo 80 percent of lines in the studio, looping over his original dialogue. His English wasn’t quite understandable at the time.
Stunt coordinator Billy Burton talks about the film and his career. He got his professional start as an extra on Westerns in the 1960s making $27.31 per day. Eventually, he became an understudy to stunt master Hal Needham, saying, “I was one of few guys in Hollywood who, in one day, could overturn a stagecoach with six horses, and the next do a car chase and overturn it. He first worked with Van Damme on “Nowhere to Run,” made just before “Hard Target.” There are no computer-generated effects in either film; it was all captured by the camera. Woo kept telling Burton, “It’s just like a Western. We’ve just substituted the horses and stagecoaches with motorcycles and cars.”
(1) Elijah Roper is recruited for the next hunt and disarms one of the marksmen. (2) Eventually he’s killed in the French Quarter. (3) New Orleans detective Mitchell (Kasi Lemmons) wishes she would’ve done more to investigate the veteran killings. (4) She’s caught in the cross-fire between Chance and Henriksen’s army.
A new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was provided from Universal. The majority of the scenes from cinematographer Russell Carpenter (“Titanic,” “Ant-Man”) – especially medium close-ups – look superb. Clarity is good; so is the natural film grain, although it fluctuates from scene to scene. Strangely, some of the wide shots are not as clear, although they should be sharper with the expanded depth of field.
The standard HDR10 and the more refined Dolby Vision grading are a major upgrade in expanded contrast and warm, richer tones. You can really see the difference in the orange fireballs and flames, and in the natural facial toning.
Both discs include a six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack with plenty of surround sound effects and music clues from composer Graeme Revell and Tim Simonec. But, word has surfaced that the 5.1 track on the 4K and possibly the Blu-ray have issues with its front effects flipping from the left channel and then to the right channel. Honestly, I didn’t notice focusing on the refine 4K/HDR visuals. Kino Lorber has been made aware of the issue.
If you’re a Van Damme or Woo fan, this 4K upgrade is an obvious no-brainer. It would be great, too, if the studios could release “Timecop” (1994) or “Sudden Death” (1995). Ronald Emmerich’s “Universal Soldier” (1992), with Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, is already in 4K.
– Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch, producer
(1) Chance and Natasha escape to his uncle Douvee’s (Wilford Brimley) house deep in the bayou. (2) Henriksen, Pik van Cleaf (Arnold Vosloo), and Stephen (Sven-Ole Thorsen) narrow their search for Chance and Natasha. (3) It’s a one-on-one battle between Chance and van Cleaf.