The Destroyer Recreated or Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins Again
Left: The original cover of Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy
Right: Promo poster for the film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
I'm curious to see what Black, who also wrote scripts for the Lethal Weapon film series and wrote and directed the offbeat Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang might do with a modern take on The Destroyer. The earlier film, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, is a pretty clunky piece of Hollywood product.
Character actor Fred Ward, who did solid work during the 80s in films like The Right Stuff, feels way too low-key for an action film leading man as the eponymous Remo. It's hard to believe that the studio thought they were launching a James Bond-style series of films with him (even going so far as hiring Guy Hamilton of Goldfinger fame to direct). Then there's the plot, which is something involving misappropriation of government funds by an arms contractor, which doesn't exactly get the blood pumping as events unfold.
And then we come to the most painfully dated part of the film: Joel Grey. In the original novels, Remo is recruited by a top secret government agency called CURE and given a trainer and handler in the form of Chiun, an elderly Korean who is a deadly assassin and master of Sinanju, "The sun source of all martial arts." For reasons that presumably make sense only to the old white dudes who guide the motion picture world, it was felt that song and dance man Joel Grey (best known for originating the role of the Emcee in Cabaret and fathering Jennifer "Dirty Dancing" Grey) was the right actor for the job. And thus Grey appears onscreen under heavy Asian-ish makeup and speaking in a geographically indistinct fake Asian accent.
Joel Grey, teaching Fred Ward that life is not a cabaret
Fred "Not Neo" Ward in action
However, all that being said, I have to admit to a slightly embarrassing fact: I really enjoyed Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins when it came out. I was in junior high at the time and really had no sensitivity to ideas like yellowface or racebending, and I guess my tastes were undiscerning enough that I overlooked its shortcomings as a film (Keep in mind, this was the era when boys my age were enjoying stuff like Police Academy and its sequels).
And then there's the fact that a major character in the film is Korean, despite being played by a white actor. I'm pretty sure that struck me in some way. Back then, the only time Koreans ever seemed to appear in TV or film was M*A*S*H (a show about which my mother always pointed out inaccuracies), and general awareness of Korea seemed so limited it really felt like that episode of King of the Hill when Hank Hill repeatedly asks his Laotian neighbor "So are you Chinese or Japanese?"
I remember asking my mother if Sinanju was real (It is, but it's the name of a village in North Korea), picking up the novelization of Remo Williams, and then subsequently reading through some of the original novels (which could be found at Kroch's and Brentano's next to Mack Bolan and Tom Clancy). And all in all, I couldn't help but feel there was something really cool about an ass-kicking Korean running around the world having adventures, even if he was secondary to the white guy who was his pupil.
I have no idea what Black's plans are for his new film version. There's some really interesting people involved in the project, from Charles Roven, who produced The Dark Knight, to screenwriter Jim Uhls of Fight Club. Of course, a really big point for me is who they cast as Chiun, and my hope is that the character is written and directed in a respectful manner that rings true to his ethnicity and background. Interestingly, Black has already had one experience dealing with issues of Asian representation. Iron Man 3 included the first onscreen appearance of Iron Man's longtime comic book nemesis The Mandarin, a Chinese mad scientist straight out of the Fu Manchu tradition of Yellow Peril stereotypes. Black got around things by reconceptualizing the character's name as the adopted moniker of a global terrorist and casting distinctly non-East Asian actor Ben Kingsley (And some other twists, but those are spoilers). That decision ruffled a lot of comic book die-hards, but personally I applaud it.
My personal vote for Chiun would be Korean American actor Randall Duk Kim. Most people know Kim as the The Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded, but he is also an extremely accomplished stage actor (particular in Shakespearean works), and he is just the right age now to play Chiun.
Randall Duk Kim in The Matrix Reloaded
In any case, I think things have moved forward enough that, at minimum, they will cast someone Asian in the role. 'Cause if it ends up being Alan Cumming in Yellowface, there will be hell to pay.