Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Based on The Destroyer
novel series, this film tells the story of a tough New York City cop who is recruited by a top secret organization to become a "blue collar James Bond."
We begin with our cop hero (Fred Ward) on patrol when he is lured into a trap by several street toughs, but he defeats them with brute force. A moment later his patrol car, with him inside, is pushed into the harbor by a big truck. The driver of the truck is MacCleary (J.A. Preston) who attends the funeral, and is present in the hospital room when the cop wakes up to a surgically altered face, and gives him a new name, Remo Williams. "A lot of thought went into your new identity" MacCleary says as he glances at the bedpan which reads Williams Inc. - Remo, Arkansas.
Remo has been recruited against his will into CURE, "an organization that doesn't exist" according to Smith (Wilford Brimley), the head of CURE who sits in a room with a computer that is tied into all data banks in the world. They clean up the messes that no one else can. Smith answers only to the President, and understands that they are all expendable. If Remo wants to opt out, he's instructed that the casket they bought to fake his death is still available for his use.
Remo is told that part of the job will entail assassination, "the highest form of public service." Smith sends him on his first assignment to test this ability. Remo finds himself face to face with Chiun (Joel Grey), an old Korean man. Remo doesn't want to kill, but the old man won't let him out alive. Soon Remo is fighting Chiun and loses quite pitifully. We learn that Chiun is the fourth and final operative of CURE and will train Remo in the ancient Korean art of Sinanju, from which all other worldly martial arts were derived.
This sets up a training montage that begins to feel like it will be the entire film. Remo and Chiun move into a loft apartment where Remo will learn how to breathe, how to move, what to eat, and run a homemade obstacle course that tests his balance and jumping ability. A finger board will strengthen his hands and presumably he will learn the art of pressure points which were very useful to other fictional fighters such as Ken, Fist of the North Star and Xena, Warrior Princess. Chiun takes him to Coney Island and makes him climb the Wonder Wheel from the outside. On the beach, Remo learns how to 'float' and run without leaving footprints. He also learns to dodge bullets. Chiun refuses to share with Remo the "36 steps to bringing a female to sexual satisfaction" and notes "I rarely find it necessary to go beyond seven."
The plot of the movie comes fairly late. Smith notices Maj. Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) as a resource they can tap. She is running some kind of accounting audit for the military and notices shady dealings coming from George Grove (Charles Cioffi), a military contractor who has promised Congress some new weapons. Fleming observes some training on an Army base and one of the new prototype AR-60s blows up in a soldier's face. It seems Grove is selling sustandard gear and skimming money off the top. Remo and MacCleary are sent to make contact with Fleming. There's a bit of coincidence in play as Remo has a tough-guy faceoff with a random guy on the street with a diamond tooth who it turns out is working for Grove and now Remo's cover is blown.
One of my favorite scenes involves Remo sneaking into a warehouse to get the goods on Grove only to come face to face with a pack of unexpectedly intelligent doberman guard dogs. Somehow they can scale ladders, open doors, even walk a tightrope.
Finally Remo is sent to a military base where Fleming is getting close to Grove and his men. Chiun also shows up to offer support and Remo gets to run around the compound escaping certain death. Diamond-tooth even locks Remo and Fleming in a pressure chamber that probably not even Remo could survive with his training if the villain had left him in there for hours, or days. Instead he opens the door before Remo has even passed out, I guess to gloat, giving Remo his opportunity to escape in a payoff that is as enjoyable as it is ridiculous.
But that's this whole movie, enjoyable and ridiculous. I discovered it on TV as a kid and rewatched it many times. The highlight is just the relationship between Remo and Chiun, the old man who berates Remo for being white, American, fat, lazy and stupid, but you can tell he sees the potential. Remo approaches Chiun with a flippant attitude even after he has learned to respect the old man's abilities and knows he has something to learn from him.
Today, you can't escape the conversation about Chiun being a 'yellowface' stereotype. The actor Joel Grey is a white American wearing Asian makeup, doing an accent and speaking in broken English. That the character is treated as being the smartest and most highly skilled won't take the sting out of it for some. Even if the character had been played by an Asian actor he is still the creation of white authors and represents the idea of everything Asian being magical and mysterious. So I'll just note that without comment. As a kid I didn't think about such things and I liked the character, but now, it does seem a little weird at times.
I felt like I had missed a beat between Remo and Fleming. Their first meeting is Remo trying really badly to flirt with her and she laughs at his attempt. I'm not sure if he was really flirting badly or just trying to size her up without blowing his cover and acting intentionally goofy. At any rate, when they meet again much later in the movie, she is really happy to see him and seems somewhat smitten with him. It felt like we skipped a scene where he impressed her somehow.
novels were co-authored by a couple of New Jersey natives, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. The series numbers 150+ novels and several comic book series and audio books.
Fred Ward was apparently considered a strong character actor with a history of solid supporting roles but wasn't considered leading man material. This is probably why he was cast as the unlikely hero (and why people like me love him in the movie) and also why the movie failed to perform at the box office. It had been imagined as a 3-picture deal but didn't make it past the first.
The Statue of Liberty was undergoing an extensive restoration at the time and scaffolding had been erected all around it. The movie takes advantage of this by having Remo chased by a bunch of thugs all around the Statue and the scaffolding. He dangles hundreds of feet the air and there are some nice helicopter shots here. Also a giant, probably half or quarter scale head and torch of the Statue was built for the closeup shots and probably shot on a sound stage. You can tell all the shots of the fake head were shot from below so you see only sky in the background. If it had been shot from above you would have to fake the skyline of NYC behind it.
The film was directed by Guy Hamilton who had directed four James Bond pictures, two with Connery and two with Moore. There is some pretty nice aerial photography and while there's not a ton of action there are some nice stunt scenes.
It may seem unlikely but Remo Williams did receive a pilot for a proposed TV series. The episode was titled “The Prophecy” and I don't know if it aired at the time or was simply one of many in the vault of unaired pilots. It did see air on the Encore channel in 2009 which is probably why it can now be found on YouTube.
I just saw this for the first time. Chiun is now played by Roddy McDowall who opens the episode by addressing the audience to tell them if they tuned in to see Remo they will be disappointed because this is the Chiun show. Jeffrey Meek takes over as Remo and seems a little less worldly than Fred Ward and a little more goofy. The biggest problem is that the first half of the episode is them sitting around talking and it's pretty dull. Chiun is supposedly going back to Korea to deal with 'the prophecy' so there is scene of him saying goodbye forever to Remo. Then a scene of Chiun and Smith at an airport where Smith convinces him not to go. Then a scene of Chiun telling Remo that he is back because Remo's training is more important. Talk about killing time.
Then Smith sends Remo on an assignment to a warehouse to do an arson job for some reason. Remo runs into a robot tank that shoots lasers. Just when I thought the show didn't have a budget. For some reason the robot tank's eye/brain is located on the outside of its armor plating so it forms the perfect target.
Remo has to escape the burning building and heads to the roof where Chiun is waiting to berate him. The building is surrounded by firetrucks that actually started rolling in before he set the fire. I thought Remo's conundrum at this point was how to escape without being seen but I guess he just can't figure out how to get off the building, even though the opening scene of the show had Remo scale a four-story building and jump off it without being hurt. But he can't get off this two-story building so Chiun tells Remo he can actually descend by running down the stream of water the firefighters are shooting at the building, which he does, right in front of everyone. I thought they didn't want the world to know about them?
Then there's a second plot where Chiun has hired an assassin to wound, not kill, Remo, as a test of Remo's abilities. But the assassin wants to kill Remo so that he can be Chiun's student. Chiun has taught the assassin how to avoid Remo's early detection and this proves fatal as the guy actually kills Remo in the final scene of the show. Chiun decides that Remo is too important to lose so he conjures some Sinanju magic and brings Remo back to life, which he says is fulfilling 'the prophecy.' Huh?
I think the makeup on Roddy is worse than it was on Joel Grey, he doesn't look much like a real person. His accent is also sometimes hard to understand and seems like a cartoony attempt at an Asian.
They reuse the theme song from the movie, and a shot of Remo dangling off the Statue of Liberty from the movie. I wonder if this would have worked as a series, it's too bad they couldn't get a real Asian like a Pat Morita for Chiun. I'm not sure about Jeffrey Meek, at times I didn't like him but at times I saw the potential. And he did get to flirt with Judy Landers, always a good thing to do in the '80s.