This is the first of an occasional series looking at fictional characters that I particularly like, with special focus on those who may not be household names.
This first look is on Chiun, who first appeared in the novel Created, the Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. He is a supporting character in most if not all the Destroyer novels, though he only briefly appears in the first book and his “appearances” in the second book are short flashback sequences covering events during and after the first book, Death Check. It is the third book, Chinese Puzzle where he really comes into his own as a character.
Chiun is an ancient Master of Sinanju and a professional assassin, albeit a protagonist in the Destroyer series. Poverty issues in the Korean village of Sinanju have forced him to accept payment from the United States to train the main character in the Destroyer series, Remo Williams, a government agent/assassin working for a covert organization called CURE. Chiun also works for cure but is unaware (and as long as he gets paid, uninterested in) which organization he works for. In many ways he is far deadlier than his pupil, he sole disadvantage in combat being his advanced age.
What makes him an interesting character though is his personality. He is a proud man, demanding respect but having trouble giving it. He looks down at other races to varying degree: Caucasian people earn him disdain while Chinese people he outright hates. The one aspect of American culture he truly respects is the daytime soap opera. His prejudices coupled with his martial arts ability sometimes creates serious problems, as he is not above putting people in the hospital if they annoy him, often with permanent injury.
When his judgement is not clouded by his prejudices he is highly intelligence. He is extremely well versed in the art of the assassination, not just in terms of martial arts (he disdains guns) but also in terms of blending in and seeming harmless (he is also known to use the latter skill to get other people to carry stuff that he is quite capable of carrying himself, by playing up the his frailness). He also knows a considerable amount about proper diet and actively discourages smoking, alcohol, hamburgers, and other foods and drinks that, while tasty aren’t good for the body (likewise smoking); it should be noted that the first novel came out in 1971, and much of his dietary beliefs have proven increasingly popular in the real world subsequently.
Chiun is never boring because of the complexities of his character. While he often does appalling things, and sometimes his priorites seem a bit off (soap operas being a major priority) but he lives by his code an does not deny when he is goig things for mainly monetary reasons.
He also plays off Remo quite well, and in many ways they keep himself in check: Chiun makes sure that Remo maintains his diet, doesn’t stand out more than he should, etc, while Remo lectures him on killing or harming people needlessly. Much of novels’ humour is based on the interplay between the two characters, who have a complex father/son relationship. Additional humour comes from the ways they sometimes casually discuss ways of dealing with opponents who are hopelessly outmatched by the duo.
Remo is the main character of the series and interesting enough in his own right, and he’s also essential to bringing out a lot of Chiun’s personality. However, Chiun is the more unique and fascinating of the two characters, someone who’s often funny without being aware of that fact (and if you told him he’d likely kill or maim you().