Friday, April 12, 2013
Hard Target Workprint
How naive was I back in 1993? Enough to be insanely excited about John Woo going to Hollywood and making his first movie there, Hard Target. Even the presence of Jean Claude Van Damme could do little to dampen my enthusiasm. Inevitably I was disappointed by the film on it's release, not that I thought it was a terrible movie you understand, just that it was more JCVD than John Woo. It felt like Woo had been let down by the producers who had courted him so determinedly. My subsequent viewings have been kinder to the film and in it's released form, it remains Van Damme's best film and a solid action movie.
The released version of Hard Target always felt compromised, and rumours of not only studio interference but Van Damme himself demanding changes were rife. As is usually the case in a situation like this it wasn't long before talk began of a "director's cut" of the film, although I doubt anyone thought we would ever actually get to see it. Now almost twenty years later, I finally got to see it thanks to fellow blogger Ingo.
So how does the "Workprint" (as it's called) compare? Well firstly as you would probably expect the quality isn't great, coming from at a guess, a fourth or even fifth generation VHS copy and riddled with the flaws inherent to the format. Putting quality issues aside, it's fascinating comparing the two versions, the workprint runs approximately 117 minutes against the released cut at 97 minutes (apparently there exists a third variant that runs even longer at 127 minutes, which I haven't seen to compare). The extra footage being a mix of character and plot enhancements and of course extended action sequences, most notably during the finale. The result? Well it certainly has the John Woo signature lacking in the shorter cut, which is extremely welcome, however it isn't all good news as regrettably some of the additions just don't work. Woo went from working with fantastic, charismatic actors like Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung, stars who almost instinctively knew what was required of them, to working with, to put it kindly, more limited performers such as JCVD and Yancy Butler. Factor in communication problems caused by the language barrier and certain scenes were always going to be awkward, love scene I'm looking at you!
The good news are the action sequences. The final warehouse scene in particular is on a wholly different level in terms of intensity and all round mayhem in the longer version, and most definitely worth the effort of tracking this down.
I remember reading an article in the UK magazine Sight and Sound about Hard Target, where the writer called the film "the first art-house action film" or words to that effect, and while the intent may have been there, unfortunately the execution is lacking. In the end neither version is ideal and I would suggest a further variant of something in between these two cuts would be the closest thing to a definitive version. A cut that keeps, for want of a better word, the Woo-ness in terms of the thematics and violence of the workprint, but trims the fat of it's more awkward moments. I guess we're unlikely to ever see that, but it would be nice for Woo to get a chance to deliver his own cut of the movie for everyone to see, and it is the 20th anniversary this year, hint hint...