music friday: the tymes, “so much in love”
emmys

#49: tomorrow never dies (roger spottiswoode, 1997)

(This is the second of 50 pieces I’ll post here over the next several months. They originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

I’m cheating a bit here, and it’s only my second entry. I’ve chosen Tomorrow Never Dies, even though it’s not anywhere near my favorite Bond movie (that would probably be From Russia with Love). Tomorrow Never Dies is decent enough, arguably Pierce Brosnan’s best 007 film. But it’s on this list because I was always going to have a James Bond movie, and because I wanted to write about Michelle Yeoh.

As others have noted, Yeoh would have made a great Jane Bond. There is often talk of mixing up the series, maybe have a black Bond, or a gay Bond, or an anything-but-Bond Bond. If they had the guts to give us a female Malaysian Bond, that would be mixing it up. Yeoh’s greatness is evident in Tomorrow Never Dies, which coughs and wheezes its way through most scenes in which she is absent. She doesn’t get to do her own stunts this time (Jackie Chan famously let her do her own stunts in his movies), but she does do her own fighting, and honestly, she looks more realistic as an ass-kicker than Brosnan does.

The problem is that while Yeoh is what makes this a special Bond film, her presence also reminds us of Hong Kong films like Yes, Madam and The Heroic Trio that make better use of her talents. To say nothing of the Jackie Chan film Police Story 3: Super Cop, which includes a Yeoh-on-motorcycle stunt that tops even the exciting motorcycle chase in Tomorrow Never Dies. Even the best this Bond film has to offer tends to remind you of something better.

So, if you don’t like cheating, imagine that I’ve made From Russia with Love my choice for #49. And dream of a world where Michelle Yeoh got to play 007.

(I should add that the director, Roger Spottiswoode, also directed my choice for #50. He did a better job on that one. With apologies to fans of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, this will be Spottiswoode’s last appearance on my list.)

 

 

 

The comments for this one centered around the fact that most of the people didn’t actually care for James Bond movies. One commenter wondered how this could be one of my favorite films if the actress is better in other movies. I promised she would show up again later on the list.

 

Comments

Steve

Okay, based on this, I watched "From Russia with Love" for the first time in a couple of decades or so, and I wonder why you didn't just list this in place of that Pierce Brosnan contraption, as good as Michelle Yeoh is. (Is it any wonder? She just played Aung San Suu Ki and got banned from Burma for time immemorial.) "Russia" is easily the most interesting of all the Bond films: Much more than "Dr. No", it's the origin story, and the foundation for all--and I mean ALL--that comes later. Exotic locations, whacking women around, kinky sex and violence, the Cold War, and holy fucking crap, Lotte Lenya in the most out-of-character Stalinist role, courtesy of warped American perceptions of the Soviet Union (which resonate to the present day through the teabaggers). And the great Pedro Almandariz (dying of cancer) as a Turkish agent. And Venice!

All subsequent Bond is a big turd compared to this film.

Steven Rubio

I don't know, I thought I explained why I chose this one, but no one really got it six months ago, either. If I remember correctly, this turned out to be the lowest-ranked film of any choice by the three of us according to the IMDB users. And I got my chance later to highlight Michelle Yeoh again, so it was pointless to feature her here. The one place I'd disagree with you is that From Russia with Love is the foundation for the series. The lack of a super villain is the biggest difference, plus FRWL is just better than the rest of the series, more concerned with character, and with set pieces that are on a much smaller scale than what was to come (and are the better for it ... the fight between Connery and Shaw in the train is a classic, and Lenya's cool shoes have their moment, as well). I think Goldfinger is the one that set up what followed. And Goldfinger is a good movie, but it led to Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever, and Roger Moore. As one executive reportedly said, "every time we make a new Bond film, we set out to make From Russia with Love and end up with Thunderball."

Steve

Yeah, you're no doubt right. The supervillain is such a minor character that they had to bring him back later in order to kill him off properly. What I liked is that "small scale," which translates as a lean and mean, even minimalist approach to the recurrent themes and bits of business that quickly became (sometimes enjoyable) shtick (and I'm not talking about being faithful to that loathsome Ian Fleming). It's distilled essence of Bond. With "Goldfinger," the franchise starts getting more baroque, and while it works well in that film, the influence, as you suggest, was not usually beneficial.

Steven Rubio

I think we're mostly in agreement. OTOH, I'm the guy who, when asked to contribute an essay for an anthology on Bond, chose the non-canonical Connery comeback, Never Say Never Again, as my text.

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