Woo fires wide of the target in Tinseltown

POOR old John Woo seems to be learning about Hollywood life the hard way after his new film was reported to have incurred the wrath of the censors and its leading man.

The current darling of Tinseltown, Woo has encountered a few highly publicised problems with his directorial Hollywood debut, Hard Target. Word has it the star of the film, Jean Claude Van Damme, was displeased with the final cut of the film.

Why? It did not include enough of himself.

This condition of celluloid insecurity is something Kevin Costner reportedly came down with while making Robin Hood. He furiously claimed he was not in enough shots and did not have his fair share of close-ups. A star re-cut was demanded.

According to industry sources, Van Damme was stricken when the film was screened during some test runs, and the audience was said to react a little too enthusiastically to other actors, including Lance Henrikson's bad-guy character.

Van Damme, they said, grabbed hold of the editing reins, and had the film's original editor, Bob Morosci, removed while he called in a new, more Van Damme-friendly editor. All this, of course, adds spice to movie's August 20 premiere in the US.

Meanwhile, nothing has been heard from Universal Pictures, which made the film. Producers Jim Jacks and Rob Tapert have apparently been keeping mum. Maybe because they already have enough on their hands trying to placate US censors who have taken exception to the film's violence.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which classifies films, slapped the thriller with an ''NC-17'' rating, barring everyone under 17 from the cinema.

Universal is now making cuts to Hard Target, in which Van Damme takes on a bunch of hunters preying on homeless ex-servicemen, to get the rating changed to ''R'', so that the all-important core audience of teenage boys can see it.

''There are no specific scenes that are too violent. The MPAA says it's the general violence throughout,'' explained one studio insider.

Jacks said: ''This poor man [Woo] has never dealt with anything like this before, and he's a bit bewildered by the whole thing.

''He's made a set of cuts but the board felt that wasn't enough and he's making another set of cuts right now. I don't think it's the amount of blood, but rather the number of deaths.

''The body count of the movie is no greater than the Die Hard or Lethal Weapon pictures, but John has shot it in such a stylised and elegant way that the power of each death is pretty amazing.'' All this came when Woo was getting used to glowing tributes.

''It was fun to watch John win people over,'' said unit publicist David Chute. ''There are lots of stories about foreign directors coming to the US and working with old Hollywood crews who don't take kindly to being told to do things differently.

''He was very nice to people. When an actor did a good job he beamed and gave them a pat on the back. A little bit of that goes a long way.'' But perhaps not quite far enough for Van Damme.