Movie Title: Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Writer: Christopher Wood (Based on the book series by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy)
Starring: Fred Ward, Joel Grey, Wilford Brimley, J.A. Preston, George Coe, Charles Cioffi, Kate Mulgrew, Patrick Kilpatrick, Michael Pataki,
Review: When it comes to movies adapted from books you almost invariably hear, 'The book was better.' But the 1985 film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is one of the few exceptions.
Based upon The Destroyer series of paperback novels co-authored by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir in the 70s and 80s, the movie transforms the wooden caricatures from the books into dynamic characters with actual personalities that the viewer can become invested in.
The main character is the titular Remo Williams (played by the recently deceased Fred Ward), a former Marine and New York cop who is recruited by a secret government organization called CURE to be an assassin. After being dumped in a river so his death can be faked and given reconstructive facial surgery, Williams is introduced to Chiun, the Korean master of a martial art called Sinanju. It is Chiun's job to train Williams to use his body as a weapon so he can create 'perfect accidents'.
Chiun is played by Joel Grey while the rest of the 3-man CURE organization is filled out by Harold Smith, played by Wilford Brimley, and Conn MacCleary, played by J.A. Preston.
The martial arts element is pure camp, as neither Ward nor Grey had any martial arts experience or training before filming. Still, the fictional style of 'Sinanju' provides for wild stunts like bullet-dodging and acrobatics that give the action scenes a quality that is both fantastical and entertaining.
The underlying plot of a corrupt weapons developer who is swindling the U.S. government out of billions of dollars gives the film its direction, but it is the characters of Williams and Chiun and their relationship that make the film what it is.
The preposterous training scenes are punctuated by pure gems of dialogue. Like when Williams asks Chiun, "Really, you are old, aren't you?" And Chiun replies, "For an apricot, yes. For a head of lettuce, even more so. For a mountain, I have not even begun in years. For a man, I am just right."
Joel Grey does his best playing a 70-year-old Korean, but his performance is boosted by the admittedly impressive make-up by artist Carl Fullerton who received an Oscar-nomination for his work.
The film tried to create a blue-collar, American version of James Bond, but what they produced was a campy, innocently fun and quick-paced romp into action territory that will leave viewers entertained if not overly-burdened with plot. Definitely one of the highlights of the '80s.
Fun Fact: Although the Statue of Liberty was undergoing renovation in preparation for its centennial when the film was made, the filmmakers shot on and around the actual statue and its scaffolding as well as on a full-sized replica (from just below Liberty's book to the top of her torch) which was constructed in Mexico City. Because of weather and scheduling, the sequence required additional photography during the summer following the original mid-December (New York) and late-February (Mexico) shoots. Two different locations photographed during three separate time periods illustrates the value of storyboards and thorough pre-visualization.