Gawd Damme it’s good to see you again!

I’m not even remotely embarrassed in stating that it’s good to see Jean Claude Van Damme back on the scene.  They say with enough time everything comes back into style and recently that’s become true of the Muscles from Brussells.  Coors advertising campaign aside he’s been lined up to appear in his first “big” movie in years alongside Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mickey Rourke in The Expendables II.  Jean Claude never really reached the heights of the action alumni as he was always just a spinning heel kick away from the A-list and whether an outing in the sequel to the most star studded action flick ever will change that is yet to be seen.  There is however one thing that must go uncontested.  JCVD holds the credit of starring in the greatest action film of all time, as action films go it recreated the genre and is only a slight exaggeration to dub it the Citizen Kane of action.

Hard Target (1993) directed by John Woo

Before you decide to discontinue reading consider the facts.  In the late 80’s / early 90’s the action film genre had taken a considerable number of stumbling steps and faced with a career in the cold stars like Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis attempted to diversify, Bruce with Death Becomes Here and Schwarzenegger with Junior for example.  The only one of the holy trinity of action stars who stuck with their career model was Stallone and his stock has only just recovered after such flat-lining ventures as Daylight and Cliffhanger.  John Woo’s first English language title changed all of that for those brave to tread the genre.  Hard Target introduced the audiences of Hollywood to the notion of seriously O.T.T action.

Example : JCVD empties two magazines into a mans chest before roundhouse kicking him and it’s the kick that breaks his neck.

This is brilliant and was a comedic device latched on to by the action genre completely.  Con Air has numerous instances like that and helped to make it an extremely profitable film for the producers.  Similarly with Face/Off, another Woo title, there are several moments of ultra extravagant violence.  Several keys elements of Face/Off were taken directly from Hard Target, most noticeably the back to back conversation between Van Damme and Arnold Voslo was replicated with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage with fantastic affect (as each man was playing the other man’s role from earlier in the film post face transplant).

Woo also created a technique, or at least showcased it in Hard Target, that would take the action world by storm and has been used in just about every action film of the past decade.  The technique was taken on and improved upon by the Wachowski brothers and would not only make them and their stars rich but also made being a computer nerd cool, full length leather jackets acceptable and Nokia phones the must have item.  The film was The Matrix and the technique was bullet time.

Having rewatched Hard Target recently it is truly amazing just how many foundations it has forged for modern action films and like The Running Man before it simply getting better and more relevant with age.

Orson Welles gorged himself at Musso and Frank’s for years after making Citizen Kane often wondering how it could have been so hated, perhaps he was wrong, if he wasn’t how could nobody else see it?  The truth is the man was a genius and years ahead of his time.  Let’s embrace JCVD and thank him for the gifts he’s given us, a broad accent, flexing in vests and the greatest action film ever made.  If you’re still unsure then go watch it for yourself.


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