Friday, April 13, 2012

Hard Target: a cocktail of Van Damme, violence and pigeons

Title: Hard Target
Year:  1993
Director: John Woo
Running time: 92 min.
Country: United States

What would you expect from a film directed by John Woo and starring by Jean Claude Van Damme?

Some action?  Sure
Plenty of violence?  Absolutely
Traces of romance?  Few (actually none in this film)
Any pigeons?  Tons of them!!!

This film includes several pigeon-related scenes which develop a significant role in the plot. In the film there are two sides: the goodies and the baddies. On one hand, we find Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). He is a hero who is helping Natasha in the search for her father. On the other, there is a group of bad guys commanded by the evil Emil Bouchon. This group eventually finds Mr. Chance and tries to hunt and kill him. In between, there are many pigeon appearances -always supporting the protagonist-. I summarize these appearances in three scenes that I think that are the most representative.

Scene 1, the dove's miraclous guidance

Chances respectful stares at the dove
Chance is at the place where the corpse of Natasha's father was found. He is looking for new evidence when suddenly a dove enters the scene.  Chance follows the flight of the dove, which stops on a wooden railing. We can see how the dove nods pinpointing  the evidence that Chance is looking for.
It is a general consensus that Jean Claude Van Damme didn't perform an exceptional interpretation in this movie but in this scene I think that he does pretty well: he seems to be very interested in the pigeon's behaviour and he shows a respectful attitude (as opposed to Woody Allen in Star Dust Memories). Somehow he knows that the dove is helping him and he appreciates very much this gentile help.

The dove shows Chance the criminal evidence that he is looking for

Scene 2, the martyr pigeons

The hunt for Chance is approaching the climax. He is cornered in an abandoned warehouse. Two John-Woo-style-bad-guy-pimps are chasing him driving motorbikes inside the warehouse. One of them (that we are going to call Bad Guy) stops and searchs for his victim, Mr. Chance. The Bad Guy is not aware of the presence of several pigeons above him. In parallel with this action, and pressed under the circumstances of a heavy vegetable-based breakfast, one of the pigeons poos on the helmet of the Bad Guy  (left picture). This is always a very disturbing event, but if you are a bad guy armed with a machine gun the consecuences can be fatal. This is the case of these innocent pigeons which were massacred under the indiscriminate revenge fire of this pigeon maniac. A bloody-feathered slaughter. After ending his revenge Chance appears in the scene and pronounces his famous and very deep phrase: Hey Pigeon!. The bad guy is unable to kill Chance (given that he finished all the ammunition firing at the pigeons) and Chance takes his time to kill the Bad Guy in a very terrible and painful way which I will avoid describing because it is not related to pigeons. The complete scene can be seen here.

The pigeon feels relaxes after pooing on the Bad Guy

The massacre of the innocent pigeons under the indiscriminate fire of the Bad Guy

Scene 3, the beginning of the killing rampage

After hiding in the deepest side of the warehouse Chance is ready to show his skills as a killing machine in a bloody rampage. Before starting the orgy of violence we can see him with a feathered friend. They are staring each other. I really like the complicity between this two characters.

Mr. Chance waits to start the killing rampage with his feathered friend

Details of the pigeon starring 

  • Source: Hard Target  Starring moment: Scene 1: 0:29:45, Scene 2: 1:12:57, Scene 3: 1:15:44
  • Pigeon activity: The pigeons develop several roles. In scene 1 there is a providence dove that guides the protagonist. In scene 2 there are common pigeons that live in an abandoned building. Finally, in scene 3 there is a friendly pigeon that fraternizes with Van Damme.
  • Symbolism: Again, each scene has a different symbolism. In scene 1 the dove represents the search for justice. Maybe even it could symbolise Natasha's father's soul guiding the protagonist. In scenes 2 and 3 they are common but friendly pigeons.
  • Relevance: High. The pigeons help the protagonist in several parts of the movie.
  • Training level: John Woo invested a large budget for using pigeons in this movie. Apart from the scenes commented on in this post there are many appearances of pigeons flying across the scenery. All of the pigeons are remarkably well-trained.

Thanks to Dogghound's Knight Grand Cross of the Wild Empire for suggesting this film

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