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From Beijing With Love - 007 Hits China in 07
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Despite the fact that the film comtains no reference to China or Chinese actors unlike Tomorrow Never Dies, Chinese people may cheer for the latest James Bond movie following its release on the mainland from yesterday -- for the first time in 45 years since Dr. No opened the series in 1962.


A launch ceremony was held yesterday at the St. Regis Hotel in Beijing Monday while a premiere ceremony occurred later with leading actors Daniel Craig, Eva Green, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and director Martin Campbell walking down the red carpet. The cast and crew seemed to shun the spotlight at both events, except for a brief chat with media during the excitement. This already created a different feel from the normally media-hungry Bonds, especially Roger Moore who once quipped: "I enjoy being a highly overpaid actor."


Casino Royale could be renamed 007 Begins since it tells the beginning of the iconic spy's story. In recent years, Hollywood has enjoyed a successful wave of prequels -- successful examples are the Star Wars prequel-trilogy and Batman Begins.


But the new "Bond" Daniel Craig received short shrift for his portrayal of 007 before the movie was shown around the world. Some die-hard fans argued that the new Bond was not what they wanted, and unleashed a barrage of criticisms (even launching anti-Craig website). He was unfunny, ugly, too craggy, too dour, too rugged and laughingly, too blond. Following the film's release, Craig thankfully began to change these negative views.


People realized that the low-profile Daniel Craig had it in him to become one of the iconic Bonds. Casino Royale was not intended to portray the martini-swirling, smooth-talking, Bond of yore. 2007 Bond sweats, bleeds, cries and opens up the vulnerable side to the character which the arrogant Connery and stand-offish Moore might have struggled to pull off.


When asked by Beijing News how he saw this shift, Craig responded, "In fact I grew up watching James Bond. Sean Connery was my first influence, then Roger Moore. I never imagined I could play the role one day. But when I entered the role, I found he does have his own enchantment. Though I tried my best not to imitate previous ones, it was still hard to create a totally brand new 007. So you can still see marks of predecessors in my new Bond." 


Despite taking bond back to his roots, Casino Royale does contain many of the great hallmarks of Fleming's creation. The chases, the girls, the cars, the fights, the catchy dialogue…


Previous James Bond movies


The pacing of the film has also been held up to scrutiny. In a typically fast-paced manner, Craig spends much of the film evading pursuit and dicing with death (and terrorists). Yet, complaints have come from die-hards that Martin Campbell has made the movie too sluggish. This so-called sluggishness can be attributed to the multi-layered screenplay of writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Ironically, it is the diversity of this script that has reconciled many viewers, jaded with the old 007 formula, to the Bond franchise, confirming that the life of a Hollywood scriptwriter is a thankless one.


The film keeps up with the geo-political Joneses, setting the background in 2006, and dealing with issues of terrorism in a post-9/11 world, abandoning the tried and tested topic of the Cold War setting of the original novel. Its only tip of the hat is a throwaway line by M (Judi Dench), saying "I miss the Cold War." A lack of political reference and ideological clashes can guarantee the film a ticket to Chinese silver screens, avoiding protests like those Die Another Day endured with its portrayal of North Korea.


The film has already earned praise from Chinese cinema managers, press and audiences after limited screenings on Sunday. Many managers announced their intentions to broaden the film's release. Even though the movie series has never hit Chinese cinemas, its video products -- official and pirated – have been around since the 1980's when Chinese people admired Roger Moore, the third James Bond.  


Weng Li, an executive from the China Film Group Corporation which imported and distributed the film in China, said at the launch ceremony: "007 movies have fascinated the world for 45 years. Its phenomenon is worth being studied. Casino Royale made over US$560 million at box offices all around the globe, the best result in the series' history. So we are confident to break the norms this time in China and make 500 copies to distribute nationwide."


He also noted that, "It is the same season when King Kong and Fearless both made 100 million yuan at Chinese box offices last year. I believe Casino Royale can do the same."


But director Martin Campbell was more careful. "Frankly speaking, I don't know Chinese audiences, I don't know if they will like it or not. But I do know Chinese audience have bought DVDs to see Bond's previous adventures. In other places of the world, the film is most successful one. I just hope it can succeed in China too. But I can't tell how to understand the film from cultural angle because I don't quite know China."


"However, Beijing is a fast growing city, full of oriental miracles," he added. "Maybe we'll choose to shoot the next Bond movie here."


As matter of fact, the culture gap is not a real problem for Casino Royale. Martin Campbell should relax in the knowledge that even were the James Bond brand to be removed, Casino Royale is still a fast-paced thrilling action movie, which Chinese audiences will buy.


 (China.org.cn by Zhang Rui and Chris Dalby, January 30, 2007)


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