Twenty-three years after John Woo’s epic Hollywood debut, Roel Reine brings in some homage to the action master with this in-name sequel, highlighted by the performance of lead Scott Adkins.
Wes Baylor is a mixed martial artist who is competing for the title against his best Jonny Sutherland in Las Vegas. Down two rounds to one, Wes unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks to Jonny and in an unexpected move, does a spinning jump kick to the fighter. While Wes celebrates his win, he sees Jonny unable to move. Wes learns the horrible reality that he has accidentally killed his best friend in the ring.
Six months later, Wes, still reeling from what had happened, lives in Bangkok where he competes in underground fighting and lives in a small room where he drinks his sorrows away. However, after one major fight, he attracts the attention of Jonah Aldrich, a “promoter” who offers Wes a chance at $500,000 for a major fight. Reluctant at first, Wes accepts but soon learns the harsh reality that Wes has become the prey in a game in which Wes becomes the hunted and Aldrich becomes the leader of a group of hunters. Will Wes be able to escape this gang of hunters and what will it mean if Wes does make it out alive?
In 1993, John Woo came to Hollywood after his legendary status in Hong Kong and made his first film with the original Hard Target, in which we saw Jean-Claude Van Damme become the hunted in Lance Henriksen’s game. Never would any one imagine that there would be a sequel to this film, yet when it comes to Universal Pictures, they tend to make direct-to-DVD sequels to their films (including the recently released Kindergarten Cop 2, released twenty five years after the original).
For this film, Universal brought in their go-to director for action sequels, Dutch filmmaker Roel Reiné, who also served as the cinematographer. Reiné is clearly a filmmaker who knows how to direct action and his resume proves it. He even made a big improvement with the RZA when he directed The Man with the Iron Fists 2 in 2014. While it is clear that Woo’s original is an action classic, Reiné makes the most of this film, even paying homage to the Woo with uses of slow motion as well as a shot where we see doves, a Woo trademark.
Taking the lead this time around is the highly talented Scott Adkins. Adkins once again shows why he is one of today’s top action stars with his combination of acting skills and impressive martial arts. He gets to showcase more of his martial arts skills in the first and final acts of the film. The second act, which starts the hunt, sporadically gives Adkins a chance to do more than his martial arts and his chemistry with Ann Truong, who plays a village girl who becomes Wes’ ally, looks to be subliminal and very tense as it is clear she could act as a potential love interest but it is never fully revealed.
As for the villains, Robert Knepper, who was one of the pluses of Transporter 3, once again oozes evil in the role of the big game hunter Aldrich. However, while he does some of his own action, he leaves most of the action to his muscle, played by New Zealander Temeura Morrison, who after playing an abusive Maori in Once Were Warriors, has that tendency to play very violent men and this role is no different. Rhona Mitra also gets in on some action as Aldrich’s daughter Sofia, who proves she can be just as lethal when needed. While the casting of Jeeja Yanin of Chocolate fame may seem like a dream, it is sadly one of the minuses here as she is relegated to playing a “cleanup crew” assigned to take out Wes in the last act of the film. She is joined by the likes of Patrick Kazu Tang and Eoin O’Brien, in a one-on-many fight against Adkins.
Hard Target 2 may not be as good as the classic 1993 original. However, it is clear that Roel Reiné pays homage to John Woo and once again Scott Adkins shows why he can be a bankable lead actor. Ultimately, the film has its ups and down, but slightly more ups than downs.
WFG RATING: B-
A Universal 1440 Entertainment production. Director: Roel Reiné. Producer: Chris Lowenstein. Writers: Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan, and George Huang. Cinematography: Roel Reiné.
Editing: Radu Ion.
Cast: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, Amarin Cholvibul, Adam Saunders, Peter Hardy, Sean Keenan, Jamie Timony, Troy Honeysett, Katrina Grey,
Jeeja Yanin, Ron Smoorenburg, Eoin O’Brien, Patrick Kazu Tang, Sahajak Boonthanakit.