Behind the helm of Hard Target is Hong Kong action director John Woo. Back in Hong Kong, John Woo helmed such films as A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989) and Hard-Boiled (1992), which won some of the most stunning rave reviews ever accorded a newly discovered talent. Under the canny aegis of Sam Raimi, John Woo made his big budget Hollywood debut with Hard Target. It was not to all accounts a happy experience for Woo who had to make considerable compromise in toning down his stylistics. Nevertheless, the results on display are striking. John Woo gives the action a gutsy stylism rather than the posturing macho bravado that Jean-Claude Van Damme is usually associated with. Contrary to most action films, everything is played straight and without campy quips. Some of John Woos set-ups are stunning slow-motion shots where one can see feet connecting with heads in mid-air; one shot where a barrel is kicked up in slow-motion and explodes like a guided missile as it is shot at; Van Damme crashing a motorbike into an oncoming car and doing a forward-roll over the roof. Woo imbues Hard Target with an extraordinary style where the kinetic power of every movement is felt.
Hard Target is certainly the best film Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever made which is not saying much. On the other hand, it is one of John Woos weaker. Woo does seem compromised in his violence by having to make a film in the American mainstream he is unable to show Arnold Vosloo slicing off Elliott Keeners ear, and has to cut away when Keeners head is blown off in his car at shotgun point.
Among the cast, Jean-Claude Van Damme is his usual self more like an android created as an exercise in studied handsomeness and perfect martial arts moves than an actor. Yancy Butlers heroine could be wallpaper for all the impression she makes on the film. Best of the performances comes from Lance Henriksen who plays the equivalent of the Zaroff role with a clipped emotionlessness, appreciative of the hunt, the economics of his business and the finer things in life all in one a most worthy villain.
Hard Target 2 (2016) is a sequel starring Scott Adkins.
John Woos subsequent Hollywood action films have been of some genre interest, including the nuclear hijacking film Broken Arrow (1995), the body exchange action film Face/Off (1997), the spy thriller Mission: Impossible II (2000) and the Philip K. Dick adaptation Paycheck (2003). Woo also directed an unsold tv pilot The Robinsons: Lost in Space (2004). Woo has also produced the martial arts fantasy Bulletproof Monk (2003), the anime Appleseed Ex Machina (2007) and the Wu Xia film Reign of Assassins (2010).