Times Staff Writer

“Remo Williams” (citywide) is a slam-bang action-adventure loaded with surprises. Just when you think it’s going to be just another bone-cruncher steeped in patriotic paranoia, it sends itself up hilariously. “Remo Williams” has some of the funniest, brightest dialogue heard on screen all year.

No sooner do we meet the film’s presumed hero, a New York cop (Fred Ward), than he winds up apparently drowned in the East River after a particularly brutal ambush under the Brooklyn Bridge.

But wait a sec: It’s just a ploy for the cop to assume a new identity as a member of an intelligence agency so super-secret that it reports directly to the President and consists only of bespectacled, pipe-smoking, ever-grandfatherly Wilford Brimley and his rugged aide (J. A. Preston), who work out of a nice old Art Deco office with a computer that has access to every bit of processed information in the United States.


What’s more, Ward, an ex-Marine with no family or commitments, has no more choice in signing up with Brimley than he has in his new name (Remo Williams) or the new appearance plastic surgery has given him. (“You’re now a person who doesn’t exist, working for an organization that doesn’t exist,” explains Preston.) Like it or not, he’s to carry out their 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not get away with it.”

Wait a bit more. Just when Brimley and Preston start sounding like fascists, dangerously spouting off about the need to take the law into their own hands in order to protect the endangered Constitution, they give Ward his first assignment: to kill a man living in the basement of an old brownstone. Astonishingly, the target for assassination turns out to be a frail, elderly little Korean with very dark eyes and a riveting gaze.

A piece of cake, thinks Ward, but he’s swiftly got another thought coming: The Korean moves much faster than Ward’s bullets. Ward doesn’t know it yet, but his training has just begun; he’s going to have “terror for breakfast, pressure for lunch and aggravation for sleep.” In time the little old man introduces himself as Chuin, the last master of Sinanju, a Korean village “where all the fighting arts in the world were born. The others are but shadows; Sinanju is the sun.”

At this point “Remo Williams,” which Christopher Wood skillfully adapted from Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s popular “Destroyer” novels, becomes a kind of grown-up “Karate Kid.” Chuin’s training of Remo is so severe that it’s laughable. Chuin deplores American junk food but is hooked on soap operas, telling Remo that they’re “your country’s one undeniable contribution to the arts. It concerns family, love, honor and courage--all that’s noblest in the human spirit.”

Wood wisely takes the time to develop a real and touching relationship between the tough agent and his all-knowing, diminutive master. Then Ward’s got to start going after the bad guy, a super-powerful, highly corrupt industrialist (Charles Cioffi) who’s supplying the Pentagon with defective equipment.

“Remo Williams” takes off in grand style under the confident direction of Guy Hamilton, who has ample opportunity to display the finesse with cliffhangers that he honed on various Bond pictures. This handsome film’s set piece is a hairbreadth chase over the scaffolding surrounding the Statue of Liberty during its restoration.


With “Remo Williams,” dark, husky, humorous Fred Ward makes good on the promise that he showed in “The Right Stuff” and especially “Uforia.” Auburn-haired Kate Mulgrew recalls Jean Arthur in her beguiling portrayal of an amusingly hard-nosed (and very attractive) major investigating that defective equipment. But it’s an unrecognizable Joel Grey as the unflappable, unpredictable Chuin who walks off with the highest honors (but probably not without protest from the Korean-American community that a Korean-American actor was not cast as Chuin). Doubtless, we’re going to see more of Remo and Chuin; it’s not for nothing that “Remo Williams” (rated PG-13 for violence of the blunt rather than lingering variety) is subtitled “The Adventure Begins. . . .”