If the 1980s were the decade of Rom-Coms and John Hughes' teen angst in movie theaters, then the 1990s certainly were the action hero years. Stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Steven Seagal (Under Siege), and Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and Directors James Cameron (Aliens), Michael Bay (The Rock), and John Woo (Hard Boiled) ruled the box office for a large part of those ten years. They also saw the introduction and rise of another action star, Belgium-born Jean Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport). Van Damme, a traditionally trained Martial Artist, made several films that showcased his fighting skills and became part of his trademark.
In 1993, Van Damme teamed up with John Woo to bring Hard Target to the big screen. The movie focused on the action (of course) with a hint of spaghetti western thrown in. It included Woo's signatures - extreme close-ups and slow-motion action scenes, so fans of his will easily identify his work. Now, for the first time, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has remastered Hard Target and is releasing it this month in 4K. As with many remastered movies, the film has both good and less than good points.
The film opens on the practically deserted streets of New Orleans as a man runs around the Crescent City begging for help while being chased by men with guns and one archer carrying his bow and arrow. As the man nears the river, the attack intensifies, and the comment is made that he needs to be stopped before he gets to the water. Cue the extreme close-up of an arrow flying through the air and striking the man as he struggles to continue running. Finally, being struck down mere feet from the water, the man dies.
Three days later his daughter, Natasha (Yancy Butler; Witchblade) comes to town in search of her father, Doug (Chuck Pfarrer), who was the man murdered with a bow and arrow. Hiring Chance (Van Damme) to help her navigate the streets and people of New Orleans, they eventually discover there is much more going on than merely a random boathouse fire.
Van Damme's Martial Arts stunts are second to none and back in the early 1990s, he was in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, his acting isn't wonderful but, let's face it, that is not what he is known for. Butler is decent but the dialogue between these two makes them come off as if they are in the cafeteria of their High School. Conversely, Lance Henriksen (Aliens), is deliciously evil as Emil Fouchon, the puppet master creating "adventures" for bored, wealthy men looking to experience the "thrill of the hunt". Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) is a bloodthirsty henchman working for Fouchon.
Generally, when a movie of this age is upgraded to the latest technology, the "flaws" become even more pronounced, and the video quality suffers as a result. While the scenery is sharp and clean, the fight choreography and chase scenes don't fare quite as well, especially towards the end of the movie, for example, when it is obviously a stunt double riding the motorcycle and in the warehouse fight scene where it is glaringly obvious on more than one occasion that the kicks and punches don't land on the intended victim.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gives the viewer some wonderful ambient sound. The gunshots echo through the air as they are fired and motorcycle tires screech during the chase scenes. The extras include some interviews that were conducted in the last year or so which is a nice surprise. Many of these upgraded releases have little to no new material so it simply shows the time and care Kino Lorber took to offer an exciting re-release of Hard Target. The extras include Audio Commentary with two action film historians, From Hard Boiled to Hard Target - Interview with John Woo, Henriksen vs Van Damme - Interview with Lance Henriksen, Hard Times in The Big Easy - Interview with Yancy Butler Gun Fu and Van Dammage - Interview with Stunt Coordinator Billy Burton, Theatrical Trailer and KLSC Trailer Gallery.
Technically, this 4K upgrade is excellent, so if you are or you have a Jean Claude Van Damme or Action movie fan in your house, you should check out the Kino Lorber 4K combo pack doing this holiday gift-buying season.