Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is based on "The Destroyer" pulp novels books from the seventies. Written by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy, the stories catalogue the adventures of Remo Williams, an ex-cop brought back from the dead and trained in the obscure (and fictitious) Korean martial art of Sinanju. This esoteric fighting style enables an exponent to dodge bullets, cripple an opponent with blows to nerve endings and run across a beach without leaving footprints. On paper this was ideal material for an action movie franchise that could potentially fill a gap in the market between Bond movies. Yet this 1985 film struggled to find an audience upon release.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is both a curious and incongruous movie, containing elements of spoof as well as action. Perhaps it is the unusual tone that failed to engage viewers. It’s shame because there’s a lot to recommend and enjoy. Former Bond director Guy Hamilton manages the proceedings confidently and elements of Christopher Wood’s script are quite witty and entertaining. The underrated Fred Ward is very good as Remo Williams, as is Joel Grey as Chiun, his soap opera-loving Korean mentor. Some of the film's best scenes are there characters interactions. Carl Fullerton's make up effects turning Joel Grey into an aged Korean are outstanding. The action set pieces are very good, particularly a fight on the Statue of Liberty which was being restored at the time of filming. Again I’d like to highlight the fact that these are genuine stunts.
Unfortunately there are also weaknesses in the production. Kate Mulgrew's Major Rayner Fleming is given precious little to do and the villain of the piece, evil industrialist George Grove (Charles Cioffi ) is hardly an impressive adversary. Also some of the editing used to highlights Chiun's ability to dodge bullets and confuse his foes is poorly implemented. Instead of creating an effective illusion of speed and dexterity it simply looks “choppy”. But none of these aspect are sufficient to spoil the film overall. The humor of the film does not derail the preceding’s and there are a few grim sequences that are curious to see in a PG-13 rated move. This was a new rating at the time of release and had yet to fully find its feet.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (retitled Remo - Unarmed & Dangerous for the British market) could in different circumstances become an interesting franchise. Unfortunately the prevailing tastes of the time wanted hard “R” rated action movies with high body counts. The frivolity and obvious seventies origin of the source material were deemed old hat. Casting a white actor to play an ethnic character is also anachronistic. It’s a shame really. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is no masterpiece but it’s not the disaster that some would have you believe. The truth lies somewhere in between. The film asks you to go beyond the usual limits of the suspension of disbelief. However due to the enjoyable dynamics between the two leads, I for one am happy to go there.