Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins
“You move like a baboon… with two clubbed feet!”
We all have those special little movies we may have seen at a young age, really enjoyed and never forgot. One of those for me is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985). The film was based on a novel series called The Destroyer (Richard Sapir, Warren Murphy) which was also made into a comic book after the film was released that I collected. Fred Ward (Uncommon Valor, Southern Comfort) stars as a New York beat cop named Samuel Macon who is a real slob with no family or friends. That’s precisely why a secret agency called CURE recruits him (without his knowledge) to become an assassin for them. This organization specializes in black ops missions and only have a few members including Director of Operations Harold Smith (Wilford Brimley) and his associate McCleary (J.A. Preston) to prevent being infiltrated. After a staged death followed by a police funeral, Macon is given a new face and identity as “Remo Williams” (there’s a great gag on how the name is chosen). His first assignment under his new persona is to take out a target that is hiding in a small apartment in the city. This is where he encounters Chiun (Joel Grey) a Master of the Ancient Korean Martial Art of Sinanju….and Insults. When Remo finds out he’s no match for the little old Asian man, it’s soon revealed that this was just a test and he will be trained by Chiun to be a super fast killer. The movie then takes us on an entertaining ride with Remo and Chiun through the classic teacher/student setup you’ve seen 100s of times before in classic kung fu films. Remo learns all kinds of great tricks and becomes almost superhuman. There’s some really cool sequences where Remo practices honing his acrobatic precision such as hanging onto a ferris wheel at Coney Island and jumping across a very difficult teetering obstacle course set up in Chiun’s apartment. After Remo’s new skills are finally heightened to maximum level he is sent into action by CURE to investigate a weapons program created by corrupt officials in the US Army.
Fred Ward and Joel Grey are really funny in this movie as they trade a ton of wisecrackin’ verbal jabs along with the martial arts kind. It’s the classic tale of a hardcase going against authority until he accepts his place in the system and becomes the best. Along the way Remo and Chiun go from mentor and student to being more like father and son. The director of Remo Williams was Guy Hamilton who had plenty of experience with espionage themed films since he had made four classic James Bond movies before this.
The highlight action set piece takes place at The Statue of Liberty which was undergoing its renovation at the time. Most of the more dangerous looking shots were actually filmed at a lifesize replica of Lady Liberty in Mexico City. The scenes with Remo being attacked by thugs 100s of feet up, running and jumping from the scaffolding are truly breathtaking and nicely choreographed. The film also boasts a really spectacular theme and score by composer Craig Safan.
For an action-comedy from the 80s that I’ve revisited many times over the years, Remo actually still holds up pretty well. This is also a film that I had always wanted to see a follow up to. I think it would’ve been a perfect kind of character for a longer series. Following the release in theaters Remo did show up on TV in a pilot that wasn’t greenlit. Now, I don’t claim it to be one of the greatest movies ever, but it is an entertaining, action packed spy adventure with colorful characters that I think you’ll get a real KICK out of.