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A Better Bond

[whitespace] Tomorrow Never Dies
Michelle Skywalker: James Bond's new partner (Michelle Yeoh) takes the high road in 'Tomorrow Never Dies,' the 18th 007 adventure.

'Tomorrow Never Dies' lives up to HK action standards

By Richard von Busack

PIERCE BROSNAN is warming up to the part of James Bond, Agent 007. He even brings a hint of Celtic bitterness to the role in the inexplicably titled Tomorrow Never Dies. Brosnan displays both fury and weariness convincingly. He's able to mourn for others and--after a bad fight--even to mourn a little bit for himself. This is journalist and humorist Bruce Feirstein's second script in the series after the equally witty GoldenEye, and once again, he's snuck in lines that make you mull over the humanity of 007.

Bond and the Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh, a.k.a. Michelle Khan) are investigating a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron named Carver (Jonathan Pryce) who is scheming to push the People's Republic and the U.K. into war. Director Roger Spottiswoode's choice to magnify Carver's head for billboard-size banners and video screens has resonant scariness. (The banners look unsettlingly like the current Apple ad campaign featuring the oversized heads of geniuses.)

Usually, when western films try to improve upon the jaw-dropping action of Hong Kong films, they meet the fate predicted in that Bret Harte epitaph "Here Lies a Fool Who Tried to Hustle the East." The Bond people have succeeded in matching and topping anything out of Hong Kong by appropriating Yeoh, one of the fiercest of Hong Kong cinema's women warriors. Brosnan and Yeoh are together for the most exciting motorcycle chase ever filmed--it's even better than Yeoh's motorcycle scenes in Police Story III. Spottiswoode conducts a pursuit across rooftops, through houses, along the top of a collapsing arcade and finally into a sort of chicken run against the blades of a helicopter.

This thriller is a duel of the titans--Bond, salvator mundi, versus Carver, evil media titan--so the personal, softer aspects of Tomorrow Never Dies aren't big. If only there'd been more. There are hints of a love rectangle that should have been explored. Bond and Carver are involved with the same woman, Carver's wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher). Both men are also interested in Lin. Some more love interest could have provided a balance for the climactic gunfighting, which lapses into the usual dull jackhammer noise. Otherwise, Tomorrow Never Dies is a careening joyride, among the best of a series that is, even at this late date, faster, funnier, smarter, even deeper than anything similar. When the Bond films draw their ideas from the real world, they're all the more fun. Agent 007 used to save the Empire for the Queen; now he battles monomaniacal corporate raiders prepared to enslave the world. Who was Blofeld, if not the ultimate hostile takeover artist? The series that neither time nor Roger Moore could stale is still fresh even after 18 films and 1,000 imitations.

Tomorrow Never Dies (PG-13; 119 min.), directed by Roger Spottiswoode, written by Bruce Feirstein, photographed by Robert Elswit and starring Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh.

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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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