aka Remo: The First Adventure; Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous
Director – Guy Hamilton, Screenplay – Christopher Wood, Based on the Novel Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Producer – Larry Spiegal, Photography – Andrew Laszlo, Music – Craig Safan, Makeup Effects – Craig Reardon, Production Design – Jackson De Govia. Production Company – A Dick Clark-Larry Spiegal-Mel Bergman Production.
Fred Ward (Remo Williams/Ed Makin), Joel Grey (Chiun), J.A. Preston (Conn MacLeary), Kate Mulgrew (Major Rayner Fleming), Wilford Brimley (Harold W. Smith), Charles Cioffi (George S. Grove)
Police officer Ed Makin is attacked by thugs and shoved off a pier while in a car. He to all intents and purposes drowns and a funeral is held. Instead, he comes around to find he has been removed from the car. He has been given plastic surgery and a new identity as Remo Williams. He is told that he is now an operative for CURE, a secret government agency that operates outside the law and is answerable only to The President. None of CURE’s operatives have identities on any official records so that they can move amongst and prevent high-level government corruption. Remo is placed under the tutelage of the elderly Korean Chiun, a master of sinanju, the Oriental fighting form that all other martial arts were originally derived from. With arduous effort, Remo eventually learns the ways of sinanju, including the ability to catch bullets in his hands and walk on air. His is then assigned his first mission – to catch a crooked arms manufacturer who is defrauding the Star Wars defence program.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was based on the popular series of Destroyer novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. The Destroyer books, featuring a martial arts secret agent, first appeared in 1971. The series stretches to some 145 books up until 2006 and was written by other authors since Richard Sapir’s death in 1987 and Warren Murphy’s subsequent retirement from the series.
The film’s producers, which include American Bandstand (1952-89 host Dick Clark, clearly hoped to spin off a series of Remo Williams films, not unlike the success Albert R. Broccoli had had with the James Bond films. The attempt to create another James Bond-styled franchise was clearly at the forefront of their thinking – to such extent they even hired four times James Bond director Guy Hamilton, who made the legendary Goldfinger (1964), which essentially defined the style and formula of the Bond series, and three other Bond films, and two times Bond scripter Christopher Wood, who wrote The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Despite Remo‘s modest box-office return, nor the attempt to spin The Destroyer off as a tv series a couple of years later, nothing further ever emerged.
Remo Williams is an underrated and likeable film. One wishes it had been more of a success than it was. Guy Hamilton directs some solidly satisfying action sequences with Fred Ward fighting around the outside of the Statue of Liberty and being attacked by killer dogs. It is a comic-book of a film but one that, despite a far higher degree of outright fantasy – Remo walking on air, catching bullets and the like – is much more realistic and rooted in the real world than any of the James Bond films that had been made for the better part of the previous decade.
The film plays itself tongue-in-cheek – indeed, if it tried to get any more tongue-in-cheek, one worries it might end up choking itself. Christopher Wood’s screenplay positively struts with one-liners. The snappy sexual-equality quips that Kate Mulgrew is outfitted with – “I don’t hold it against you that you’re a woman,” “And I don’t hold it against you that you’re a man, sir” – makes it difficult to believe that is was Christopher Wood also wrote the interminable schoolboyish Confessions series of softcore books and films under the name of Timothy Lea. It is almost as though Christopher Wood had caught up with the feminist revolution and was determined to make apology for the leering innuendo of his other work.
All the fun in the film is less the action so much as it is the wonderfully sparring master-pupil relationship between the longsuffering Remo and the peppery Chiun. Joel Grey, in an extraordinarily convincing Oriental makeup job from Craig Reardon, gives a wonderfully acidic bird-like performance as Chiun that makes the film a total pleasure. Opposite him, Fred Ward gives a likable ordinary joe performance, filled with just the right degree of gracelessly bumbling awkwardness. The film also features Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)’s Kate Mulgrew in one of her first leading performances.
No sequel was ever made to the film, despite the promise made by the film’s various subtitles – The First Adventure, The Adventure Begins. There was however a tv pilot Remo Williams: The Prophecy (1988), in which Remo was now played by Jeffrey Meek and Chiun by Roddy McDowall. This was not a success and failed to go to series.