Deadly Target (1994) Review
Deadly Target was directed by Charla Driver (Heat Street, Final Impact), written by James Adelstein and Michael January (Neowolf, Warpath), and stars Gary Daniels (Skin Traffik, Repeater), Ken McLeod (Virtual Combat, Out for Blood), Susan Byun (Sgt. Kabukiman, Crime Lords), Byron Mann (Sniper 3, Skyscraper), Aki Aleong (Kuffs, V), and Max Gail (General Hospital, Barney Miller). It’s about a foreign cop teaming up with two locals to find and extradite a crime boss back to Hong Kong for punishment.
The Plot: Wasting words is a thing most people try to avoid; I’ll be doing that here by saying that the synopsis above is really all that’s required to understand what a viewer will be getting from Deadly Target.
Having just arrived in L. A. from Hong Kong, cop Prince (Daniels) is none too happy with the fact that local cop Jenson (McLeod) doesn’t have drug kingpin Chang (Mann) in custody and ready to be brought back for trial. Luckily(?) for Prince, a few hours after he arrives, he’s on a bust with Jenson listening in via a bug. Before everything goes wrong, Chang and his uncle – fellow crime lord Xiong (Aleong) get into a scuffle over what “products” to sell and force whatever counts as a plot out from the proceedings in the process.
Prince and Jenson end up with Chang in custody and although they were successful, Captain Peters (Gail) doesn’t see it that way, as expected. Adelstein and January hit all the beats that can be hit without necessitating further development. Soon Chang is rescued by his crew and back in business, resetting the clock as it were, with Prince off the case. With some light investigative work and a chance encounter with the knowledgeable Diana (Byun), the film becomes a straight shot to the finish with the three protagonists in tow.
Skeletal elements of what could’ve been a more involving plot are only in Deadly Target to facilitate action scenes. Intentionally or otherwise, this plot will be forgotten.
The Characters: Often times movies like this rely on the strength and charm of their stars. Such is the case in Adelstein and January’s script, which is light on detail and big on broad movements.
Prince is a typical maverick cop, fresh from Hong Kong and eager to get back so as to not deal with jet lag any longer than necessary. He’s been trying to bring Chang down for three years and is tired of waiting, making this case personal and giving him some humanity to counterbalance his cowboy demeanour. There’s some dry wit to the character, but not much, and Diana doesn’t add anything substantive with the romance angle. Daniels, a novice actor during this point, does a decent job but hadn’t yet grown as a performer; not that the writing helped much.
Jenson is the equally generic foil to Prince, only without Daniels’ screen presence. He’s a by-the-book officer who’s trying to do the right thing even when it results in Chang’s escape and the death of fellow officers. Deadly Target intends for him to grow into a likeable partner that’s more permissive of his foreign collaborator, but McLeod doesn’t have a grasp on this process, making him far less engaging in a vacuum and a wet blanket when next to Prince.
Chang is smarmy enough to be the bad guy and has a simple objective of dominating the drug syndication in and around Los Angeles, but he’s as cookie-cutter as the rest of the characters, leaving Mann to flounder in the underwritten role along with Daniels. Their performances, while only passable, are the highlights of Deadly Target’s roster, which is sorely lacking in anything to latch onto.
The Action: Diverting attention from the script’s flaws was an ability companies like PM had in spades. While this outing isn’t the best of their output, Driver does a mostly good job at staging fights and chases without error.
In typical fashion, Deadly Target has an extended action scene within the first five minutes, and it’s a long one. Sensing that things were going wrong, Prince almost arrives too late since he had to fight his way up several flights of stairs to reach Chang, and almost every one of the people he finds put up a worthy martial arts fight. It takes an extra couple of minutes for Jenson to join in, but once he does the fight becomes a multi-front assault to kill anyone who stands in their way of catching Chang. Spin kicks, stunt falls and gunfights abound for a nearly uninterrupted 10 minutes, culminating in an exploding car.
Rinse and repeat becomes the philosophy of the film. The martial arts are always competently shot and choreographed, and with this being a ’90s DTV film, everyone knows some style of melee combat and can keep coming in waves to stifle the efforts of Prince and Jenson. Gunfights on the other hand are generic and confoundingly shot all throughout the movie. Driver only inserts goons shooting and bullets hitting targets, with nothing happening in the same frame despite the brief moments of full coverage showing that all the squibs, stuntmen, and actors were in place.
All of these scenes and sequences refuse to go where other films haven’t, with plenty of parking lot, alley, and stairwell standoffs between martial artists and a few gunfights in small locations like a bar and the top floor of a building making up the bulk of Deadly Target’s setting. There is a good fight with Prince on an escalator, but it’s one of very few creative fights riddling the movie. Even the finale ends up at a dock. None of this is ever boring, but it’s not special either.
The Technics: Most of the details regarding the making of these movies have been lost to time, but the general process is well known and easily recognizable in PM’s features. Driver follows the mould competently but without much deviation.
Whereas most of the ’90s DTV catalogue sits at around 85 to 90 minutes, Deadly Target gets an extra ten, which isn’t at all necessary and isn’t all that well utilized. Despite the prevalence of the action, the scenes between Prince and Diana drag on far longer than they need to since Diana doesn’t have any real bearing on the story. Paired with the unsurprisingly middling direction, those extra ten minutes present themselves too prominently.
Budgets were hardly ever high under this production company, but this movie in particular comes off as chintzy and underfunded. Most locations are unreasonably empty of people (remember that the events are set in Los Angeles) and vacant of any sort of dressing or decoration. It’s no secret that a large portion of the funds went to the action, but the lack of resources makes almost every scene not based around some violent encounter look the same as each other. Obviously, the action is what the producers wanted to provide, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of the quality of the overall movie.
Deadly Target is never boring, but it’s one of the least creative of the PM assembly line. It has some light characterization and Daniels doing his thing, but it’s a largely forgettable product.
Deadly Target is available on Digital platforms including Tubi and YouTube. And if you’re looking for more action, FilmTagger can suggest a few titles that should hit the target.
2 thoughts on “Deadly Target (1994) Review”
This is not really a comment but more trivia. I have never seen the film nor read the shooting script, so I can’t really comment too much on the finished film. Though I did see the trailer and visited the set for a day. This was my fourth film for PM. I had worked with Gary Daniels on Firepower (hated the title change from Hell Zone) and I turned down writing a Don “The Dragon” Wilson project to write Gary’s first full starring role. After delivering a draft, I was asked for a rewrite to enlarge the smallish part of an antagonistic LA cop because McLeod had “some money behind him”. I didn’t want to do Gary in a buddy duo like Firepower, and some other issues, so I left the project. I did get the sense from the trailer that it had turned into a more straight-up PM film than I was trying to do. One thing I assume is missing is Charlie Prince’s fight in a Chinese restaurant, caught without a gun, he uses two roasted ducks as nunchucks and chopsticks as weapons, some years well before Bourne used books and pens. But Gary did go on to a pretty decent career. – Michael January
That’s interesting and unfortunate it didn’t work out the way it should’ve. I don’t know if your scripts for Firepower and To Be the Best made it to the screen in the way you intended, but I enjoyed both of those quite a bit. The action genre is largely (but not entirely) missing that level of wild creativity that you brought with those movies. And no, that fight with Prince in the bar didn’t make the cut, but it certainly should have from the sounds of it.
Thanks for the comment, and hopefully another movie ends up with a gem of an idea like Firepower!