Almost Super: Remo Williams
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins 1985
Lately, I’ve gone back and forth about what movies I include in the comic book and superhero category. Often times in the past, I have preferred to err on the side of inclusion, but lately I’ve started to go against that considering I decided to exclude the “superhero” movie The Adventures of Food Boy that really had nothing to do with superheroes. Remo Williams is one of those that falls closer to the lines of Buckaroo Bonzai, plus the fact that he has some extraordinary abilities learned through the martial art of Sinanju, and he has his identity changed from his previous life as a cop. But I decided that those for whatever reason just aren’t quite enough for me and this film falls a little bit more on the line of a martial arts/spy film rather than a superhero film. There were even comic books made based on this character, but they came out after this film. The film itself was a lot of fun mired behind a lack of focus and pacing, almost a parody of action/spy films while still taking itself mostly seriously.
This film works in part due to the overlying sense of humor throughout the film. Remo Williams isn’t a perfect James Bond type spy or assassin, instead he’s much more of an everyman. He’s a beat cop that ends up getting killed in the line of duty before being recruited by a secret government agency that changes his face, removes his fingerprints and his identity, they even give him a brand new name which they came up with through much thought and planning, aka he read it off the bottom of his bedpan. And besides that, the change in his face really just amounts to shaving his mustache off. Once he starts his training, it seems like everything around him is just there to try and beat him down in one way or another. His trainer is a whitewashed ancient looking Korean man named Chiun who is a master at the fictional martial art Sinanju. His training consists mostly of throwing insults at Remo for his smell, his speed, his choice in food, pretty much anything imaginable.
What can make or break this film for a potential viewer is the character of Chiun. He’s supposed to be an elderly Korean man, but he’s played by a younger white guy Joel Grey with some decent make up. This isn’t anywhere near the racial insensitivity of a Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or even the “Fa ra ra ra ra” in a Christmas Story, but it’s definitely there to a certain extent. He plays is with a rather clipped accent that feels like someone playing at Confucius, it also doesn’t help when he starts tossing out some misogynistic lines at the only woman in the cast played by Captain Janeway herself Kate Mulgrew. But if you can get past the racism, he is a rather fun character and the antagonistic relationship he has with Remo Williams really is the best part of the movie. At one point, Remo’s training takes him to a carnival and they take part in a ring toss carnie game where Chiun gets every ring on a bottle to win the giant Pink Panther. The scene ends with the three of them: Remo, Chiun, and the Panther walking away arm-in-arm where Chiun claims the toy for himself. He also has a preoccupation with watching a random soap opera.
The other fun part of this film are the two main action set pieces. The biggest one takes place on the Statue of Liberty when it was surrounded by scaffolding as it was undergoing repairs at the time of filming. The big villain of the film sends his diamond-toothed henchmen to go kill Remo, who in turn has his henchmen hire some random construction guys to knock Remo off to his death for a few thousand dollars. The other one is during a break into the bad guy’s mysterious facility. During the break in, Remo ends up spending most of the time evading this trio of Dobermans who outsmart him at every turn. In order to continue chasing him, two of them grab onto a fire escape stair to bring it down to the ground, they beat him to a rooftop, and finally one of the dogs follows him across a tightrope. It’s just so insane and ridiculous that it’s hilarious.
Where this film struggles is the pacing and the stakes. We spend an entire hour of this two hour film basically just watching Remo get trained by Chiun before he has any action outside of the initial fight sequence that got him “killed”. There’s also plenty of time spent going back to Wilford Brimley’s character who is more or less the head of this secret organization that only consists of Remo, Chiun, Brimley, and another guy who ends up dying. Brimley spends all of his scenes sitting at a very 80’s computer as the Oracle-type character, but it just slows the pace of the film down as he spits out exposition. And besides that, the main villain of the film hasn’t really done much wrong outside of what amounts to embezzling government funds. He is taking money to research a new mega-weapon, but has been hiding the actual results of that weapon because it doesn’t really exist. And the final battle at an army base slash lumber yard ends up being rather lackluster even though we do get to see Remo Williams ride a tree across a giant zip line. Even with some of the pacing issues and rampant racism and sexism, there was enough fun to be had in this film that I really did enjoy watching it. The chemistry between Remo and Chiun really works for me, and the action is big with that added touch of humor to show that Remo isn’t this perfect super-spy, but more of a regular guy trying to figure things out as he goes along. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.