I just noticed that I never saw any follow-up to the “adventure begins” continuing. However, as I typed it into IMDB a couple more Remo Williams franchise items did pop up. It looks like 1988 saw a TV film with none of the original cast, and 2017 shows a Remo Williams 2 about an hour long and no original cast either. I wonder what the heck is up with that?
Anyway, having really found this an amusing martial arts parody film back when I was a lad, I decided to give it another viewing. It’s rough going. Fred Ward is very enjoyable in his usual gruff, growling way, and the plotline of him being a secret agent for an agency that erases baddies that are untouchable to justice is a James Bondyish enough conceit but things fall apart when we get into the rather corn-ball sequences with Joel Gray made up as a Korean. It’s a bit painful, but on top of it, he’s a very arrogant and ethnocentric character, who had me howling with laughter as a kid. He seemed a lot like my martial arts teachers of the era, who were quite serious and stiff most of the time. I’ve never had a Korean instructor but I’m told they absolutely are quite nationalistic about their fighting arts, and a common joke is that anything that’s not their art is just their art done badly.
Joel Gray is fun as Chiun who can out Matrix the Matrix antics that wouldn’t be onscreen for about another fifteen years. Gray more dance-fights and points and poses and frankly it’s very funny. He looks like he was beamed out of any number of elderly Hong Kong Kung-fu epics to abuse his new student with basically impossible skills and creative insults (“You move like a pregnant yak!”).
More fun is a baby Kate Mulgrew as an army officer simultaneously uncovering the scandalous bad corporation our hero is meant to infiltrate. She’s downright cute being insulted by the ersatz Korean martial arts instructor, and running around in a skirt and heels, unlike she would ever be again!
There’s also a brief sighting of Judo Gene LeBell famous pro-wrestler, martial arts maven, and stunt coordinator for dozens of films from the day- his ginger hair and stocky build always went unnoticed somehow, just a thug in the background . . . but he’s a bonafide fight star who, it is rumored, once either terrified, or actually choked Steven Segal! The internet these days says it didn’t happen, and it seems like an unlikely disrespect from veterans in the business, but it’s a fun fantasy. LeBell doesn’t get to show off his skills, he just takes a fall!
Willford Brimley is the crotchety old secret agent boss with a COMPUTER (he could find out the temperature of your ass in your seat if he wanted to!). One of the details that’s always annoying about showing computer effects back in the day is that useless “entertainment” aspect of just showing data. Richard Pryor in the old Superman incarnation where he programmed the machine to send him the fractions of cents also has a sequence where the computer seems to go through a kind of seizure throwing up all sorts of ASCII symbols. Anyone around a machine for more than a minute knows that those cool colors and screen wipes and other graphic sillinesses have to be programmed in, and there’s no sense in doing that for just reading files. But, for some reason, the producers thought computers should do goofy entertaining things with files (well, we did have Clippy for far too long!).
Throughout the film, Remo’s upbeat theme plays every time he does something. And he’s often dangling from ropes, or sliding down scaffolding (the famous sequence on the lobby card has him battling for his life around the Statue of Liberty apparently under repair). Suffice it to say this theme music gets quite annoying.
This is looking like a list of complaints. And I suppose it is, the film didn’t age well, has some “comic” racism and sexism in it, and while the spoof martial arts are fun as well as the loopy instruction, the ending has our hero take out the bad-guy in a less than appealing manner. It’s just a movie, but I’m always rather thunderstruck when something that was created to be good fun suddenly swerves into grotesque violence and then cuts to something cute or romantic. I suppose I should lighten up, it’s just a silly bit of entertainment, but I want to evaluate it properly. Imagine they hired Jackie Chan as the instructor! Imagine that instead of representing Korea as backward, they just had Chan do a smashing job of teaching us Kung-fu theater! Chan can be a comic too! Sammo Hung would have been wonderful as well.
On the other hand, maybe having a crabby, racist in “yellow-face”, as a martial arts master is funnier. I just feel like he could have had more endearing flaws. And what would those flaws be? Could he be distracted by every fine looking lady . . . or eat too much . . . or be a gambling addict . . . or unable to kick his coke habit? I mean, he was also devoted to soap operas, which was very funny. I don’t know. Does that leave me all wet with regards to being unable to accept complex characters?
Hey, see for yourself – it’s Free on Prime!