Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bond Is Forever: “Tomorrow Never Dies”

A British ship is deliberately sent off course into Chinese territory and sunk by a drill punching a hole in its side. Media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), having initiated the scheme, hopes that sparking a war between the UK and China will result in such political upheaval in the latter country that he will be granted exclusive broadcast rights. When Carver’s company, the Carver Media Group Network, runs stories with particulars on the attack, MI6 agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned a new mission. He recovers a recently appropriated GPS encoder, while China sends its own agent, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), to investigate Carver as well. The two work together to stop the megalomaniac and to prevent misguided retaliation from either side.

While GoldenEye (1995) was a financial success, it was not a wholly satisfactory film, and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) is a notable improvement. The dashing and winsome Brosnan could play a role like 007 in his sleep, but he seems to have more fun with Tomorrow Never Dies, and he’s helped by a more engaging storyline and much more exhilarating action sequences. Judi Dench makes a welcome return as MI6 head M, and the always dependable Desmond Llewelyn is his typically charming self (and has one of his best lines in this film, spoken to Bond after the spy flauntingly masters a new gadget: “Grow up, 007!”). Bond’s gadgets include a heavily fortified car, a BMW 750, which can be controlled by a phone (resulting in an exciting chase, as Bond drives his car by remote, safe in the backseat from bullets and rockets). The phone also comes with a fingerprint scanner and an electric shock that can be emitted as a security measure. To be fair, China supplies its own agent with gadgets as well. Wai Lin has an earring with which she can pick locks and a grappling line that she can fire from a metal bracelet.

Tomorrow Never Dies
, however, does has its share of more languid points. While the film’s satire of the media is cleverly implied throughout, the suggestive dialogue is anything but subtle. It gives the impression that the studio and/or writers did not believe audiences were intelligent enough to comprehend dialogue indirectly referring to Bond’s sexual escapades. Carver, as portrayed by Pryce, is one of the least interesting Bond villains, and the fact that his power will be obtained by his control of the media (he explicitly states that words are his weapons) makes him seem less menacing than perhaps he was meant to be (one of his henchmen, Mr. Stamper, played by Götz Otto, proves far more dangerous to Bond and Lin). Likewise, Carver is too blatant and too literal, a bad guy stripped of any personality. He’s like a villainous salad without the salad dressing. In a rather tasteless scene, Carver fervently mocks Lin’s fighting style, an act which borders on racism and which squanders any redeeming qualities he might have had as a villain.

One of the strongest elements of Tomorrow Never Dies is Brosnan’s co-star, Hong Kong actress Michelle Yeoh. At the time of the film’s release, U.S. interest in the Hong Kong cinema was soaring, bolstered by Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx playing on American soil in January 1996. That summer, Dimension Films released Chan’s 1992 Police Story III: Supercop (titled simply Supercop), which had been Yeoh’s comeback film after fives years of cinematic absence. Yeoh was immensely popular when she retired in 1987 (to marry film producer Dickson Poon), but one could hardly tell that she’d been away from the big screen for all those years, as she became a huge star once again (and managed to steal the film from Hong Kong’s most famous and most bankable actor). Yeoh embodies the essence of the Bond films: savvy, proficient, honorable, and, as it happens, astonishingly beautiful. Wai Lin is much more active than most Bond ladies, making her an exceptional and endearing character. Yeoh is my personal favorite of all the female counterparts to Bond, and did I mention that she was astonishingly beautiful?

Yeoh is not the sole representation of Hong Kong films in Tomorrow Never Dies. A Hong Kong cinematic influence is prevalent in parts of the film. Some of the hand-to-hand combat, particularly with Yeoh, displays an obvious Hong Kong flair, but one can also see traces of director John Woo (who had just achieved American success with Broken Arrow, released the previous year, and Face/Off, released mere months before the premiere of Tomorrow Never Dies). At one point, Bond slides on a dolly as a means of escape (and to dodge gunfire), and both he and Lin, during a lengthy action scene, employ a gun in each hand. These are two distinguished components of Woo’s movies, as, for instance, Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat slid with his back against a stairway railing while firing two guns in Hard-Boiled (1992).

This was the first Bond film for composer David Arnold. John Barry, the composer for well over half of the 007 movies (including the first, 1962’s Dr. No), reportedly recommended Arnold to producer Barbara Broccoli. Arnold has been the composer for every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies. He also wrote a potential theme song for said film, titled “Surrender” and performed by k.d. lang. It was one of a number of songs considered for the opening song. Unfortunately, the studio opted for the rather bland title song performed by Sheryl Crow, but Arnold’s song did play over the closing credits.

Bond has his well known Walthar PPK for a good deal of the film, but he eventually picks up a Walthar P99, which he takes from Wai’s personal archive. The P99 became 007’s gun of choice until the most recent Bond entry, Quantum of Solace (2008), when Bond reverted back to the PPK. Likewise, actor Brosnan was armed with the P99 in movie posters for Tomorrow Never Dies and subsequent Bond films.The title of the film allegedly came about by a mistake. A suggested title, Tomorrow Never Lies (referencing the name of Carver’s newspaper, Tomorrow), was sent to the studio. Apparently, the title was misread and was so well received that it was retained. Look for an early appearance by Gerard Butler, who has a small role as a crew member aboard the British ship at the film’s beginning. Butler would go on to star in A-productions such as Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Frank Miller grahpic novel, 300 (2007) and, more recently, The Bounty Hunter (2010) with Jennifer Aniston.

This was the first 007 film produced and released without Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who had died less than a year after the release of GoldenEye. Tomorrow Never Dies was dedicated to the producer.

In spite of its flaws, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the more noteworthy films in the 007 series. But I will admit that Michelle Yeoh is the main reason that I can watch the film repeatedly. During a chase with Bond and Lin on a motorcycle, the two agents are handcuffed together, and Lin must continually climb around and onto her British counterpart. It’s breathtaking in terms of action but also provocative. When she first sits on Bond’s lap (so that she can see behind them), Lin tells 007, “Don’t get any ideas.” But, of course, by the time she speaks the line, it’s too late.

Any thoughts on Brosnan’s sophomore effort as James Bond?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Moonraker (1979).


  1. Sark, this is another wonderful review in your BOND IS FOREVER series. I think I like TND a little more than you, but still agree with your overall assessment. The pre-title sequence is one of the most underwhelming in the series (I think the producers recognized that, because the next Brosnan entry has one of the best openings scenes). I found Carver to be a satisfactory villain, mostly because Jonathan Pryce is good in almost anything. The film's strength, though, is definitely Michelle Yeoh. When the Bond producers released the dreadful DIE ANOTHER DAY, they made a big deal of promoting Halle Berry's heroine as Bond's first female equal. I thought: Well, that was already done in, Michelle Yeoh trumps Halle Berry in all departments (acting, looks, believability, etc.) for me. I forgot that how the song "Surrender" goes, but I'm a k.d. lang fan and will thus check out TND again this again. Again, this was an highly enjoyable review--a perfect mix of criticism and fun facts.

  2. This is my favrite Brosnon Bond. He and Michele make a great pair.

  3. Sark, I really love reading your "Bond is Forever" series. "Tomorrow Never Dies" is a great entry especially because of Michelle Yeoh. I loved her in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Butterfly and Sword." She has an elegance and artistry in her movement that are fascinating to watch. Excellent post!

  4. Sark: Nice article. I like TOMORROW NEVER DIES even though it has one of my least favorite scenes in any Bond film. I'm probably being picky but I was horrified at the scene where Bond, using a remote control device on a car of gangsters during the chase in the parking garage, manipulates the car through the railings of the top floor of the parking garage, over the river, and smack into the window of a shop across the river (was it a florist shop?)

    All I could think of were the poor people sitting in that shop who would likely have been killed when that car came crashing through. I know its only a movie, and a 007 movie at that, but the callousness of it really upset me. If Bond had sent the car into the river, that would have been fine, but not where innocents could have been killed. I can remember muttering to myself, "Connery would have never allowed that."

    The current tone deafness of the Bond producers was exacerbated by this movie when they replaced the great "Surrender" song with that Sheryl Crow pablum. Music wise for the series, it's been all downhill ever since.

  5. Agree with all on the music. Michelle Yeoh rocks in everything she's in. Will have to watch for Gerard Butler when I see it again. Good actor, but man he took some shitty roles after "Phantom of the Opera."

  6. FYI Michelle Yeoh is a Malaysian . Over here she's Dato' Michelle Yeoh. Dato is a title given for services to the nation.

  7. Sark, another of your wonderful Bond critiques! I loved your description of Pryce's villain: like villainous salad without the salad dressing. Michelle Yeoh is beautiful and talented, and is my favorite Bond female lead, with Honor Blackman coming in second. I am not a Halle Berry fan -- I never did understand why she got an Oscar for Monster's Ball. Connery has always been my favorite Bond, but Pierce Brosnan is a good follow-up. So was Timothy Dalton, but that didn't pan out. I really can't stand the new blonde guy -- Bond was not a muscle model!

  8. Great review of my favorite Pierce Brosnan movie. It is also my favorite of his Bond films. I am a big Michelle Yeoh fan too. She is good in all her films. My husband likes Teri Hatcher and was sorry she had to die. Brosnan has the coolest Bond car too. I liked what you said about the movie having shadows of a John Woo film. Woo's films are among my favorites, especially HARD TARGET with Van Damme. Although if a Scot had to be in the movie, I would have rather seen Ewan McGregor for a few minutes than Gerard Butler. After all, McGregor was Obi-Wan in the first 3 Star Wars movies and my favorite actor. :) Music is good too, and needless to say the song is on my iPod. Nice article, Sark, and I enjoyed it.

  9. Sark, I loved reading your awesome review to a "Bond film" that I have not seen. I guess I'm a "Connery" movie snob. :(