Censuring The Censors
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Originally granted an NC-17 classification in the US for its excessive gunplay & over-the-top violence, John Woo's "Hard Target" was pared down to a more palatable (for US distributor Universal, anyway) theatrical US R rating. It is this 95m US R-rated cut that was originally submitted for cinema & video exhibition in Australia, which was duly awarded an MA classification by the Office of Film & Literature Classification. Why then, is the R4 disc classified with an R rating? Fact is stranger than fiction, and in this case Columbia's R4 disc has been mastered from the uncut European print available on R2 disc. This is a phenomenal win for R4 viewers, as the European cut is closer to Woo's original vision than the truncated American theatrical release. How do they differ?
The R4 disc restores the following footage:
1. Within the opening "hunting" sequence that introduces both Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and Van Cleaf (later Darkman & Mummy Arnold Vosloo) several shots have been reinstated. Binder (the film's screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer) is shown extracting the crossbow bolt that has pinned him to a tree, through his shoulder, in painful slow motion. Additional footage has been restored in his escape run to the boat-shed, showing him calling on his SEAL survival skills with an abandoned fuel flask. Clutching it to his chest, he successfully rolls away from the shed before using it to despatch two of the motorcycle riders tailing him. The subsequent destruction of the shed is edited differently (a cut designed to smooth over the prior scene's deletion). Lastly, his run down the pier now plays complete, with THREE crossbow bolts striking him, not TWO. The second bolt strikes him in the thigh, thus slowing him down significantly (this was removed completely from the MA edition, though not by the OFLC. We can blame the MPAA for that one).
2. Shortly after Randal Poe's (Elliot Keener) show-stopping death scene, there have been a number of shots restored to the gunfight between Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) and Fouchon's henchmen. The first, and most noticeable, is that Carmine's (Kasi Lemmons) death scene plays out significantly longer. There are also additional bullet hits to the gunman who runs across the shopfront just prior. Immediately before Chance knocks the 2nd motorcyclist from his bike with a well-placed kick to the head, the first cyclist is struck extra times by Chance's gunfire. There are also brief shots of blood squirting in slow motion from the man driving the 4WD after he has been shot through the windscreen. The number of bullets fired from both parties throughout the course of the scene have also been extended, though this merely amounts to seconds of footage.
3. In the bayou scene, Fouchon's man who suffers the snake-bite now dies a nastier death. Fouchon crushing his ribs, followed by the line "Can't you die quietly" plays marginally more graphically. Seconds have been restored to the rib crushing, and the sound therein has been markedly amplified.
4. The film's finale has been considerably altered by the restoration of numerous shots throughout the passage of the last act. Realistically, the additions are primarily the excessive amount of gunfire that is the norm for a Woo film, but these additions alter the tone into one of comic-book excess, over the (US) R-rated cut. Additions are as follows:
The motorcyclist who falls foul of Chance, a can of petrol & Chance's shotgun can be seen still on his bike amidst the inferno directly after the resultant explosion lifts him clean through a warehouse window.
When the big American in the checked shirt is shot by Chance, there are 28 shots fired (!), as opposed to 8-10 in the MA rated cut. All in all, not a bad effort for a handgun that carries a maximum of 17 rounds in its clip! Purists would argue that this can be explained away via the multiple angles used in the shot.
Immediately after Chance says "Sorry about the shirt" the previously dazed cyclist get to his feet. Chance's line "Give it a rest pal" is followed by eight shots to the torso of the cyclist.
A SECOND cyclist appears from behind the first, Chance reloads & fires ten rounds into him. The second cyclist was nowhere to be seen in the MA version, as the scene cut directly after shot number eight was fired on the first cyclist.
When Douvee (Wilfrod Brimley) fires the arrow into the pillar behind which one of Fouchon's men is hiding, there is an additional close-up shot of the man with the arrow protruding from his throat before he falls off camera.
The man who chases Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) before cornering her with the immortal line "You f***ing bitch!" is shot six times in the stomach. In the MA version this is reduced to approximately three shots & utilises a cut-away shot to lessen the impact of the scene.
Chance executes a Hong Kong-styled forward flip on a Mardis Gras float before taking to air via a rope (not present in the MA version). The first man he shoots is shot nine times, and there are additional shots of squibs going off on this stuntman. This scene was reduced to the chest hits & single rear exit wounds (seen twice in the uncut print).
Lopacki's (Robert Apisa) death scene was the most obvious reduction for the edited version. After he is struck in the arm with an arrow from Douvee, the following shot of him pulling the shaft from his arm was excised. Allowing for the fact that the scene then plays out Woo-style with two guns in Chance's hands, and that any gunfire heard is simultaneous double-shots, the following holds true: Chance shoots the henchman that intervenes 14 times, delivers a kick to his head, then shoots him an additional 4 times. Lopacki is then shot 10 times directly in the torso, a roundhouse kick is delivered to his face, and an additional 16 shots are fired into him before he hits the ground. The edited print contains less than half of this footage.
There are additional shots of blood squibs on bodies firing when Chance makes his break for cover behind the trolley.
The biker at the top of the stairs is shot eight times (3 in close-up with squibs) as opposed to 4 in the edited version.
The man with the grenade is shot 14 times, with two insert shots of blood squibs detonating on him restored.
The next of Chance's victims is shot in the torso 5 times, as opposed to twice in the edit.
Van Cleaf's death also suffered immensely at the hands of the US MPAA. Chance fires no less than 46 shots (allowing for the double-shot theory) directly into his torso in the uncut print! This was reduced by more than half in the MA version, and Van Cleaf's subsequent death throes were severely curtailed. His struggle for his grenade is reduced to the barest of minimums in the edit.
An additional henchman (wearing a ridiculously fake beard) is added & accordingly shot in the body by Chance with a shotgun to suffer a gory blood-spewing slow motion death.
Chance's final fight with Fouchon has been similarly dramatically restored. Fouchon delivers a protracted speech about his invincibility to Chance over a montage of gunfire & exploding Mardi Gras floats. This segues to the next restored moment. Chance shooting Fouchon in the shoulder has the slow motion impact & squib reinstated. Their fight with the burning plank has also been "restored" (this was originally reframed so that the impact of the burning wood against Van Damme's body was always just off-screen). The kick delivered to Fouchon's chest at the finale of the fight also restores a tremendous torrent of blood from Henriksen's mouth in slow motion to the scene.
There possibly are more additions than those listed above, but these are the obvious stand-outs between the MA edition, and the uncut R-rated disc. The total amount of footage restored to the disc is just under 4 minutes, which in my books is a great win for Australian DVD viewers, as they are privy to a cut of the film that non-disc owners are not. Although it is far shy of the purported 116m Director's Cut that Woo originally prepared, it is the closest we have to his original vision of this film in this market.