A woman named Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) is in search of her missing homeless Vietnam veteran father. After being saved by a mysterious drifter called Chance Boudreaux (Jean Claude Van Damme) she hires him to guide her through her dangerous quest. Natasha and Chance discover that her father has fallen victim to a sadistic business magnate named Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his right hand man Pick Van Cleaf (Arnold Vosloo). They uncover that these two men are head of an underground society, that organises a deadly human hunting game of cat and mouse that hunts down homeless men as a form of recreation.
Praised Hong Kong action director John Woo made his explosive debut US career with Hard Target. It was four years later Woo directed one of the most notorious well-loved action films Face Off but unknown to most, it was Hard Target that started his career in the US. However it is frustrating to see how much hate is directed at Jean Claude making straight to DVD films, when it was Jean Claude Van Damme and his questionable or sexy mullet that pushed Woo’s US career. As of all Woo’s films it is pretty fascinating seeing where his explosive and hard hitting action routes came from. Woo’s earlier work, before Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapped faces, enjoyed some great successes with the 1990 Bullet in the Head and 1992 Hard Boiled. Watching Bullet in the Head and Boiled Hard you can see where Woo got his bigger and brighter inspiration for Hard Target but then, he pushed these inspirations to the next level for Face Off.
The narrative for Hard Target is quite enjoyable and better still what I found most favourable about Hard Target, is the deadly blood sport hunting game. I also appreciated the shift from a safari hunting ground to the urban environment of New Orleans. In the jungle it is hunters or poachers that kill the helpless animals but Woo took this concept and fused it into a urban hunting game, were it is the rich and powerful that hunt the poor and derelicts.
Beyond Woo’s trademark action and violence and being set in America, there is another fantastic link between Woo’s Hong Kong films and Hard Target. It is the symbiotic relationship between characters that represent the opposite side of the law but morally wants to do good. If we look at Jean Claude’s character Chance he is seen as a broke, out of luck and rough guy. However even though he does show good morals at times, when Natasha asks for help he refuses until he needs the money she’s offering. Later on Chance never care about the money he himself is put on the same boat as Natasha when Chance’s homeless friend killed, making it now personal for Chance. Even though Chance is a problematical good guy and at time has mixed morals, if we look at Van Cleaf and Fourchon it is very clear that these guys are the villains who soul mission in this film is to make money and enjoy the thrills of hunting.