Jean Claude gets some loving!
Didn't we see enough of this in Maximum Risk?
The Hard Target Director's Cut, rumored to be John Woo's preferential version of the movie, has finally made its way into our possession, and it is an interesting alternate version of the film. After the disappointment of the original Hard Target, we were anxious to see what the fabled director's cut was like. The tape we saw was a rough cut, complete with temporary music, no color correction, and a message for preview audiences tacked on to the beginning. We don't know if this is the same version of the director's cut available from other sources, but the version we saw was about twenty minutes longer than the established version of the film (116 minutes vs 96 minutes), and has more John Woo touches, including a bit more violence.
There are two kinds of people who will be dissapointed by the director's cut: those who think that the fact that John Woo edited the film will magically raise it to the level of Hard Boiled, and those who believe the various advertising claims, repeated on the video cover, that the expanded version has "twenty minutes of gore and mayhem."
The director's cut has pluses compared to the final version, but it has minuses too. As to the twenty extra minutes being devoted to violence, that is simply not true. The single largest addition in the director's cut is -- those who are faint of heart need not read on -- a love scene between Chance (Jean Claude Van Damme) and Nat (Yancy Butler).
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated scene (for anyone who knows of Woo's travails while making the movie) is the scene where Pick cuts off a man's earlobe with a pair of scissors. In this rough cut, we get to see a lot more blood, and get to see the cut itself in extreme closeup.
Several of the other action scenes are expanded in the rough cut, most notably the one that opens the film. Unfortunately, the expanded version of the scene goes a little too far in terms of how much gunfire the police and fire departments of New Orleans could reasonably ignore. It's one thing if the bad guys chase a guy around on motorcycles (as they do in the final cut), it's another if the bad guys blow up a building (as they do in the rough cut). After the first scene, the expansions to the action scenes are not all that significant, though some people take longer to die than in the final cut. Of course this is not any surprise to fans of Woo's films. The thugs in all John Woo films seem to have decentralized vital organ systems, so shooting them in the chests just won't kill them. In Hard Target, it seems that they will only die if Van Damme kicks them in the face a coulple of times, either before or after shooting them several times in the chest.
Because this is John Woo's version
of the film, Roper actually stands back
up after being shot through the chest
an estimated 15 times -- only to get
shot through the chest another 25 times.
Outside of action, there are some interesting editing tricks present in the rough cut that were removed from the final. Our favorite occurs during the scene where we see Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) playing the piano. In the rough cut the shots of Fouchon tickling the ivory is intercut with stock footage of big game hunters and African tribesmen hunting and killing elephants and gazelle. It creates and interesting effect. Are the shots of hunters and hunted supposed to be what is going on in Fouchon's mind? Or are they presented to us as an attempt to satirize Fouchon's pretentions at being civilized? There is nothing nearly that challenging to the viewer in the final version of the film.
Our greatest disappointment in the rough cut is the climatic fight between Chance and Fouchon. It is much shorter and quite abrupt, and does not include the best line to appear in the final cut. In the final cut, Chance kicks Fouchon a couple of times in the face, then grabs him and drops Pick's greande down Fouchon's pants. Fouchon then falls backwards and fishes the grenade out and... we won't say anymore, but if you've seen the movie, you know what happens. In the rough cut, none of this is seen. Chance pushes Fouchon down to the ground, drops the grenade to the floor between Fouchon's legs. Chance leaps away, Fouchon goes BOOM! End of movie. Because the final cut's version is much funnier, we would guess that it was added at the last minute. And judging by the style of the humor, we'll even speculate that the final cut's version of Fouchon's death was added by Hard Target's executive producer Sam Raimi. But that's just our impression based on our familiarity with both men's work.
We're glad we saw this version of the film, and we would encourage others to see if it they can find it at a good price. But just because it's a different cut of the film, presumably closer to John Woo's vision of the film, does not raise it above the level of shallow entertainment.