Movie History Lesson: How Jean-Claude Van Damme and John Woo Collided to Make 'Hard Target'

Movie History Lesson: How Jean-Claude Van Damme and John Woo Collided to Make 'Hard Target'

Mar 04, 2014

Hard Target posterJean-Claude Van Damme movies aren't exactly known for their subtlety. Even still, we're a little surprised at just how unnecessarily over the top filming was for a simple motorcycle ride in 1993's Hard Target. But once you learn a bit of the backstory behind the action classic, it all makes sense.

Directed by John Woo, Hard Target starred the muscles from Brussels as a drifter who helps a pretty woman search for her missing father, only to discover he's been killed by a rich maniac (Lance Henriksen) who hunts homeless people for fun. Then things get weird. It's a cool, sweaty action movie with stunts as elaborate and groovy as JCVD's mullet. It was Woo's first Hollywood movie after a handful of hits in Hong Kong, and as you can see in the below clip, he broke out every piece of gear he could from the studio's toolbox. 

What we love about this clip isn't that it's got some mind-blowing, unprecedented camera work, but rather the scale of the camera work is constantly escalating, and so out of proportion to what's actually required. Then again, blowing things out of proportion is exactly why John Woo and Hard Target are awesome.

Some fun facts about Hard Target:

- John Woo turned down the script for Face/Off to direct this instead, as the sci-fi side of that movie didn't interest him. (Apparently he became a fan four years later.)

- Kurt Russell was originally sought for the role, but they couldn't wait two years to film it with him. The studio then went to JCVD, who met with Woo when he was filming Double Impact in Hong Kong.

- Universal was afraid that Woo's limited English would be a problem on set, so it hired Sam Raimi to oversee the entire shoot and replace Woo if need be.

- The crew had to construct a bulletproof shield to protect the camera, which was nicknamed "the Woo-Woo Choo-Choo."

- The first six times Universal submitted Hard Target to the MPAA it got slapped with an NC-17. After this, JCVD hired his own editor for a proposed recut of the film, which featured way more close-ups of his own character, ignoring others entirely. Thankfully the producers ignored this cut, but in the end Woo had to make 20 edits to the film's chase sequences and love scenes.

- Hard Target was the first film made by an Asian director to be released by a Hollywood studio. (This is kind of insane, right?)

- Hard Target was the 16th highest selling LaserDisc film of 1994. Number 15 was Free Willy.

- The original, NC-17 version of the film has never been officially released.

- When John Woo was a child, he was stricken with a horrible medical condition that prevented him from walking correctly until he was eight years old. Chinese doctors told his parents, "I am hopeless and to give me up and have another child." Instead they spent all of their money on finding a German doctor who would treat his back condition with skin grafts from his leg, which saved his quality of life, but contributed to his family's need to flee Communist China, causing them to live on the streets of Hong Kong for nearly two years. Eventually a Christian family from America sponsored Woo's family and paid for him to go to school, which explains why so many of Woo's movies have religious imagery in them. One shot in particular from Hard Target bears this influence. As Woo told the New York Times, "Jean-Claude is looking at a dogtag trying to get inspiration, and a dove, the Holy Spirit, leads him the way."








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