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Die Another Day: The Bond magic still works

WE ALL know what to find in a James Bond adventure. The chases that spark magic, the fights that thrill, the women who seduce with their oomph, and, finally, the man himself who always wins. Whether it is over his enemies or the babes he desires, Bond defies logic in a strange, sweet and utterly delightful way.

The 20th Bond film in 40 years, "Die Another Day", which is opening today, December 20 2002, in India, is all these. But, Bond has a new toy this time, a cigar, which he lights up on a Cuban beach with the same consummate skill and style that he uses to ravish Jinx, an American agent, as she emerges from the sea in a flaming orange bikini. If the anti-tobacco brigade is annoyed that an icon like Bond should have strayed from the shaken martini to a Cuban puff, other purists may not find Oscar winning Halle Berry as irresistible as Ursula Andress was in a similar scene in the 1962 "Dr No", the first Bond movie.

But is Pierce Brosnan, who plays the 007 in "Die Another Day", as suave and slick as Sean Connery was in the first Bond sagas? Whatever be the answer to this, Brosnan, who has agreed to be Bond for the fifth time after the current "Die Another Day", would like us to believe that he is as charming as Connery was, and that this film, like the rest, is indeed a convincing piece of celluloid.

Brosnan said: ``I just hope that my Bond is truthful and believable, having the time of his life killing people, drinking martinis, and shagging his way through the high society of every country he goes to.''

Maybe, there is some truth in what Brosnan says. Ian Fleming who first created Bond in 1952 ("Casino Royale"), though it was made into a film only in 1967 was often considered to be 007's alter ego. Much in the same way the secret agent lived on the cutting edge of life, Fleming himself had an exciting, even a dangerous, existence as the second in command of British intelligence during World War II. Dashing and dressed in Savile Row suits, Fleming loved fine food, fast cars and lovely damsels all that his hero still desires.

A former journalist, Fleming was a close friend of the British spymaster, Sir William Stevenson, whose Ultra Network broke the German diplomatic code in 1939. Obviously, Fleming wrote from the first hand knowledge he had of espionage. For example, Goldfinger's raid on Fort Knox was inspired by a plan, never put into action, to steal Vichy gold from Martinique.

Although, we would never know how much of "Die Another Day" is true with Fleming himself now dead for almost 40 years the author of the most recent six James Bond movies, Raymond Benson, says that he has kept his style close to Fleming's.

But a point of greater interest to viewers, both past and present, has been the choice of subjects. They have been invariably topical.

"Die Another Day" opens in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea with an electrifying high-speed hovercraft chase, which takes Bond to Hong Kong, Cuba and London. With the new crisis looming over the Korean peninsula, "Die Another Day" has the right pepper to stimulate our juices.

For a long time, Bond films could not find well-defined enemies, something the Cold War era of the 1960s provided. It was then easy to spin yarns about Russia. "Die Another Day", by some strange quirk of fate, could not have chosen a better `foe' than North Korea.

Director Lee Tamahori having got hold of a real enemy is not too keen to distract his Bond in a way he may appear uncomfortably different from his predecessors. So by the time Madonna's electronically enhanced chirps escape from the soundtrack, we have seen pulse-pounding surfing off the North Korean coast, an armoured hover-craft chase across the demilitarised zone and fireballs that explode to destroy all creatures, but Bond.

Well, we want that. Do we not? Even when Bond is captured, this time in a bold departure from the earlier escapades and tortured mercilessly (he is stung by scorpions, dipped into ice cold water), we remain smug in the belief that he will triumph in the end.

Fourteen months after such a deathly existence, Bond wins back his freedom, not trust. M (Judy Dench again) tells him that he is no longer of any use to Her Majesty's Secret Service.

We know, M cannot be cross forever, and Bond is back to being, well, Bond again. An assassin, a predator, a bird watcher. ``Since there are no owls here at night,'' Brosnan tells Berry on the beach, ``I have nothing to prey on after sunset."

``What then would a predator do?" she asks. ``Feast as if there is no tomorrow," Brosnan enslaves her with these words, and as we see Berry leaving the next morning without even a goodbye to him after a night of wild love, we want to believe her earlier words, ``My friends call me Jinx, because my relationships do not last." But we do not.

Bond shows signs of emotion, probably for the first time, and he meets Jinx again. Berry is probably the most attractive of the Bond girls, and one is not talking in terms of mere beauty. There is something magnetic about her. Brosnan is no Sean Connery, we all know that, but he appears to have aged like delectable wine. And as he nears 50 he seems human even if he is forced to mask a larger-than-life image.

In the end, "Die Another Day", is a characteristic chase-and-win fare, with a few novelties thrown in. It may be exaggerated, even questionable in a certain sense, but it is a work we want to watch, love and revel in. A Bondage, where the shackles do not hurt too much.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated December 20 2002)

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