Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime… and this week our pick is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
The Destroyer series has been churning out new novels since 1971. Over 150 books have been published by several different authors since then. The stories revolve around Remo Williams, a former cop who gets sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. But his death is faked, and he’s subsequently hired by a government organization called CURE to work as an international assassin.
Remo’s missions are typical of the scenarios that are popular in men’s adventure fiction tales. He travels the world, kills bad guys, and hooks up with women. He comes up against everything from kung-fu masters to androids. Pulp adventure stories are rarely serious affairs, but this series lampoons the characteristics of its genre.
In the mid-1980s, Orion Pictures decided to bring Remo to the screen. The studio had the intention of turning him into the star of a Bond-esque franchise. This wasn’t an awful idea given the similarities to 007 and the wealth of source material to mine from. They even hired Bond franchise alum Guy Hamilton and Christopher Wood to make the film. Unfortunately, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins didn’t usher in a new hit action franchise as intended. But the movie is still a lot of fun.
What’s it about?
The movie is essentially an origin story about Remo (Fred Ward) and his transformation from New York City cop to a super killer. After being enlisted by CURE, he learns to dodge bullets, levitate, and run across cement by Chiun (Joel Grey), an 80-year-old martial arts master. Casting a 53-year-old American white man as an elderly Korean wasn’t the most enlightened choice, but the makeup did earn Carl Fullerton a Best Makeup Oscar nomination from the Academy.
Of course, it doesn’t take long until Remo has to put his newfound skills to good use. There’s an arms manufacturer with connections in the U.S. military who must be stopped. Remo is the one to put an end to it. Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) joins the cause as Remo’s sidekick.
What makes it sublime?
Remo: The Adventure Begins is constantly entertaining. The film has all of the tongue-in-cheek charm of the books, but it’s also a refreshing take on ‘80s action movies. Ward isn’t a Stallone or Schwarzenegger, but his everyman interpretation of action archetypes is wonderful. It’s also quite strange to see him in a martial arts movie, but he pulls it off.
Ward was synonymous with dramatic roles at the time. But in his personal life, he trained with a karate instructor and was a self-confessed fitness junkie. This role lets him showcase his physical impressiveness while delivering the hard-boiled humor he excels at. Interestingly, the actor performed half of his own stunts for the film as well.
This is a very funny movie. The relationship between Remo and Chiun provides an abundance of comedic exchanges. Every great buddy-themed action movie contains a fine balance of love and bickering between the central pair, and this one is no different.
The movie should have cast an Asian actor to play Chiun, but Grey is fantastic as Remo’s sensei. While the movie was marketed as a blue-collar American Bond for the patriotic crowd, Grey is given some excellent dialogue that pokes fun at the red, white, and blue. Remo: The Adventure Begins is actually more of a soft parody of the ‘Murican action fare that was popular in the 1980s.
The action is lively and entertaining throughout, but there’s a standout action sequence that takes place on the Statue of Liberty. In the scene, Remo dangles from scaffolding and gets into brawls with builders while evading gunmen. It’s genuinely thrilling. The scene was filmed in two different countries, but the filmmakers were allowed access to the real statue for a day while it was being remodeled.
And in conclusion…
Remo: The Adventure Begins is just pure fun. It’s a shame that the movie never spawned a franchise. This is a series that could have went to some truly wacky places, and seeing Ward spearhead more action yarns would have been joyous. He clearly had a blast here and it’s one of his most entertaining performances.
Shane Black is interested in making his own Destroyer adaptation, so maybe this character will eventually get another chance to shine on the screen. And hopefully, he casts a digitally de-aged Fred Ward in the lead role.