Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

AKA Remo: Unarmed And Dangerous.

Sometimes, as a youngster, your love for a movie is set in stone from the very first time you see it. There are many obvious titles I could list here as personal favourites, and many of them would have people nodding in agreement (I hope). But sometimes you love a movie that seems out of line with others that have grabbed your attention. Movies that weren't really aimed AT you, necessarily, but still managed to hit the sweet spot, even if you first saw it at an age when you didn't take in every detail or get every joke. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is one of those movies.

It's a simple tale. Fred Ward is Remo, a man who used to be someone else. A covert company liked his profile, decided to recruit him, and then faked his death. They then gave him a new face (although it's not a million miles away from his old face), a new name (errrr . . . .  Remo Williams, obviously), and placed him under the tutelage of a martial arts master (Chiun, played by Joel Grey). Remo will be trained up to become a perfect assassin . . . . . . . . . . . . . IF he survives.

Basically, this is The Karate Kid for slightly older viewers, mixed with elements of James Bond. Based on The Destroyer series of books, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy, this was a movie that kicked off a franchise that never happened. While that's a bit of a shame, it's also great, in a way. No shoddy sequels were produced to tarnish the affection so many have for this film.

The cast all handle the material with the healthy sense of humour running all the way through it. Ward is consistently believable in the lead role, whether rolling his eyes and lacking self-belief in the first half of the movie or handling the physical aspect of the role in the later scenes. I don't know why Grey was picked to play the character of Chiun, but he's entertaining in every scene that he has. The great practical make up used on him doesn't cover the ever-present twinkle in his eye. J. A. Preston and Wilford Brimley both do their usual good work, playing the men in charge of CURE, the covert company waiting impatiently for Remo to fulfil his full potential, and Charles Cioffi is George Grove, the villain of the piece, although the best moments involve his henchman, Stone (Patrick Kilpatrick). Last, but by no means least, are two military personnel. George Coe is a General helping out Grove, while Kate Mulgrew has the role of Major Rayner Fleming, a military woman who starts to smell a rat when trying to check up on Grove and his projects.

Directed by Guy Hamilton (a Bond veteran, of course), the whole thing moves along at a cracking pace, ensuring that viewers never feel bored during the 120-minute runtime. The script (by Christopher Wood, although it was apparently heavily rewritten by Hamilton) has just the right tone throughout, gently self-mocking when viewers are directly alongside Remo but all about the thrills and action when watching him being seriously tested. Admittedly, the grand finale may be a little less effective than it could be, but the vertigo-inducing set-pieces that come along before hand more than make up for that. And the BIG sequence set on the Statue Of Liberty remains a high benchmark in action cinema, perfectly blending stuntwork, special effects and an almost unbearable amount of tension. Seriously, hold that up alongside any other action movie set-piece and it holds up to this day.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, or Remo: Unarmed And Dangerous, or even just Remo. The title may have been subject to change over the years, but the movie has remained, and still remains, a real gem for action fans.


Trust me, THIS is the release that you need ASAP - - a typically lush Arrow package, with commentary, a cracking documentary on the cultural context of '80s action flicks, a booklet, and picture and sound quality that I'd argue is the best the movie has had since its cinema release.

Please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon and see my book there.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.


  1. It's a fun, entertaining little gem, but it can't hold a candle to the books on which it was based--not even in the same galaxy. In part, this is because the technology didn't yet exist to bring to life on screen many of the things in those books--it would take CGI to do a lot of it, and it isn't clear that even CGI could do it! But it's also a consequence of the rather odd decision to make this more of a "kid-friendly" Remo, something the books are definitely not, and to make it more of a mass-audience film. Draining the adult content and most of the amusing social commentary and snark really takes a lot out of the Destroyer (though the film did maintain significant elements of the books' quirky humor). The one thing the movie gets almost entirely right, even through all the water, is the Remo/Chiun relationship, which is, in fact, most of why the movie works (to the extent that it does). This attenuating of the source material continued shortly after the film when an American network financed a pilot for a Remo Willaims tv series. The series never came to pass, but the pilot was aired.

    It's hard to believe no one has picked this up as a new film franchise; it's a great, almost endless series of films begging to be made. Through the writing of the earliest books, authors Sapir and Murphy were living on different continents, and with each new project, one of them would start the book, write half of it then send it off to the other to complete. The legend is that the one who started it would dream up as ludicrous and convoluted a plot as he could manage then the other guy would have to come up with some way to resolve it. Don't know if there's any truth in that, but they're remarkably entertaining, and someone needs to get them on the screen.

    1. I've never read the books but have been kinda tempted after revisiting this movie. Mind you, there are so many of them and I now have so little reading time.

      It's definitely got the potential for a reboot, IF handled right.