Tomorrow Never Dies Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

You always were a cunning linguist, James.

"Tomorrow Never Dies", the 18th installment in the 35-year old James Bond franchise has our favorite secret agent in a lot less passion and doing a lot more bashin'.

In the South China Sea, a British Naval Vessel and a Chinese MIG are apparently the casualties of a heated exchange between the two respective countries. However, this flashpoint of World War III is actually the handiwork of media tycoon Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce, last seen in "Evita"), a sociopathic cross between Ted Turner and Bill Gates. The Carver Media Group not only reports the news, but is making the news by orchestrating conflicts and disasters in the name of ratings and market share. M (Judi Dench), finding it odd that "Tomorrow", the newspaper of the CMG, was able to publish a headline about the international incident so quickly, presses Her Majesty's Secret Service Agent 007 (Pierce Brosnan) into action, with a forty-eight hour deadline to uncover Carver's meddling and avoid an escalation of hostilities between the British and the Chinese governments.

There's no news like bad news.

As typical with any James Bond movie, our intrepid secret agent is first sent to a cocktail party-- a gala reception to celebrate the inauguration of the CMG global satellite system that will 'illuminate every corner of the globe', reaching every human being on the planet with information. In addition to meeting with his nemesis, Bond also meets Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh, who butted heads with Jackie Chan in "Supercop"), a Chinese agent passing herself off as a journalist, and Paris (Teri Hatcher of "Lois & Clark"), an old flame of James that is now married to Carver. However, it doesn't take long for Carver to figure out that Bond is not really a banker, and the hunt is on. Carver's goons, led by uber-henchman Stamper (Gotz Otto), follow Bond and his new sidekick Wai Lin as they search for Carver's base of operations, taking them on a tour of London, the bottom of the South China Sea, and Saigon.

What kind of banking do you do, Mr. Bond?
Hostile takeovers.

TND is a by-the-numbers rendition of your prototypical James Bond actioner, following the tried-and-true narrative structure that dominates the series:

  1. Opening action sequence where Bond barely escapes calamity, usually involving an airplane of some sort.
  2. Titillating title sequence choreographed to the latest theme song (this time by Sheryl Crow).
  3. Bond is called into duty by Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), usually interrupting a romantic tryst (insert obligatory double entendre here).
  4. Bond is given his mission by M.
  5. "Now pay attention Double-O-Seven"-- Q (Desmond Llewelyn) shows Bond the latest gadgets and then tells him to 'grow up'.
  6. "Bond... James Bond"-- Bond goes to either a cocktail party or a casino and meets up with the villain and the villain's chief henchman (and never using an assumed name).
  7. Bond meets the Bond Girl.
  8. Bond finds information that leads him to an exotic corner of the world.
  9. Avoiding death at the hands of the villain's henchmen, Bond finds the secret base of operations, and falls in love with the Bond Girl.
  10. Before Bond is able to destroy the threat to the world, he and the Bond Girl are captured.
  11. Bond and Bond Girl are subjected to the villain's wordy exposition on their plans for world domination and left in an easily-escapable situation.
  12. Bond and Bond Girl bring down the villain's nefarious scheme, destroying the secret base of operations in the process.
  13. Bond and Bond Girl escape the destruction and have a romantic tryst far from prying eyes.

However, this time out, it is heavier on action than on romance, boasting several impressive action sequences. The creative carnage featured in TND include a fiery escape from a terrorist arms bazaar, Bond playing backseat driver in a high speed chase involving a brand new gadget-packed BMW 750 with a remote control feature, a rough-and-tumble chase through the crowded streets of Saigon with Bond and Lin handcuffed together, and a grand-finale shoot-out aboard Carver's stealth boat with all the requisite fireworks and expendable extras. However, as exciting as these sequences may be, the direction, much akin to the plotting, is purely functional, lacking any creative flair or visual panache.

TND also marks the North American feature film debut of Malaysian-born action starlet Michelle Yeoh (sometimes billed as Michelle Khan, which was a marketing tactic to penetrate the Asia-averse European market), described by Oliver Stone as his 'all-time favorite actress'. Though audiences may recognize her for her martial arts prowess, she actually began her career as a beauty queen with a degree in Dance and Drama from London, specializing in ballet. Despite the lack of training in the traditional martial arts and her limited understanding of Cantonese, she persevered to make a name for herself in the arena of Hong Kong movies. Her first breakthrough role as action queen was in 1985's "Yes, Madam", in which she was paired with Cynthia Rothrock as a couple of high-kicking policewomen-- incidentally, a movie that kick-started the modern woman-warrior genre of Hong Kong action movies. Following on that success, Yeoh's career flourished, and like Jackie Chan, prided herself in doing her own stunts. Yeoh plays the most assertive Bond Girl in the history of the series, and is given ample opportunity to strut her stuff in TND. However, the choreography of her fighting is restrained compared to the hyperkinetic outbursts seen in some of her previous movies, such as "Supercop", the "Supercop" spin-off "Project S", and "Heroic Trio". But despite this, it was refreshing to see Yeoh in action, and not surprisingly, TND should do well in Asian markets.

If there is any shortcoming of TND, it would have to be the conventional plotting, which seems to have been thrown together with bits and pieces of previous Bond films. And having seen "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" earlier in the year, the creatively-bankrupt conventions of the spy genre are glaring when viewing TND, almost to the point of being campy (a subtitle in the opening sequence reads "A terrorist arms bazaar somewhere near the Russian border"). "Tomorrow Never Dies" is not a gourmet meal (in fact, it's more of a convenience food), but if you are a fan of the James Bond franchise, your hunger will be satiated, at least until the next time he returns.

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