Being an avid James Bond fan, as well as a writer for City on Fire, I’ve put together a list of Bond titles that are relevant with Asian and martial arts cinema. Whether it be ninjas, samurai, kung fu masters – or just well-known Asian talent – there’s definitely a connection between 007 and the types of films that are usually covered here at City on Fire. Of course, considering the impact Bond films have had on cinema in general, none of this should come as a surprise.
Even in the first James Bond film, hints of Asian film culture were already evident. 1962’s Dr. No has Bond (Sean Connery) up against the titular villain, Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who was 1/2 German and 1/2 Chinese. Surrounded with his deadly Asian henchmen, Dr. No was committed to terrorizing the world with his atomic-powered radio beam. The 1973 Bruce Lee martial arts classic, Enter the Dragon, is considered by many, somewhat of an unofficial remake of Dr. No – in fact, critics have referred to Enter the Dragon as “a remake of Dr. No with elements of Fu Manchu”.
You Only Live Twice
Back in 1967, it was one heck of a gamble for Western movies to feature a prominent Asian cast, but as time went by, there was definitely a demand (similar to the recent rise of online casino and rise of people who look to play bingo), so in a way, You Only Live Twice was a look into the future. Samurai warriors aside, the film served as one of the first major appearance of the ninja in a Western pop culture; and unless you were a fan of Japanese cinema, these masked assassins (and their cool assortment of weapons) were relatively unknown back then. Additionally, the film features popular Japanese actor, Tetsuro Tamba (Harakiri), as well as Akiko Wakabayashi (King Kong vs. Godzilla), Mie Hama (Counterattack of King Kong) and Tsai Chin (who would later make a cameo in 2006’s Casino Royale) in supporting roles.
1964’s Goldfinger has one of the most memorable, if not THE most memorable, villains of all time: Oddjob (played by real-life Japanese weightlifter/professional wrestler, Harold Sakata). This abnormally strong assassin is armed with his trademark razor-edged bowler hat, which is similar to the “Flying Guillotine” weapon that was popular in many kung fu films. Sakata himself would go on to make appearances in a couple of martial arts titles: 1977’s Death Dimension (with Jim Kelley and George Lazenby) and 1982’s Bruce Strikes Back (with Bruce Le and Hwang Jang Lee) where he practically reprises his role as Oddjob.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Especially for the time, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service displays the franchise’s most inventive, hard-hitting action sequences – similar to what we’d see in a John Woo flick years later. In one example, Bond (George Lazenby) is seen sliding belly-down a snowy hill while simultaneously shooting a high-powered machine gun at his enemies. A few years after his one and only outing as 007, Lazenby would join Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios and star in a handful of Chinese productions with the likes of Angela Mao (Enter the Dragon) and Jimmy Wang Yu (The Man from Hong Kong) – one of the projects, Game of Death – would have paired him up with Bruce Lee, but due to the latter’s untimely death, the project was put on the back burner (only to be finished a few years later with a Bond-esque credit sequence and a soundtrack by John Barry, who scored most of the Bond films). The most popular, 1975’s Man From Hong Kong, which has Lazenby as a villain, is essentially a James Bond copycat starring Wang Yu. Lazenby also appears in the aforementioned Death Dimension, not to mention the 1977 comedy, Kentucky Fried Movie, which is largely made up of an Enter the Dragon spoof titled A Fistful of Yen, which showcases Grand Master Bong Soo Han (Force: Five) and Evan C. Kim (Megaforce).
Man with the Golden Gun
Thanks to films like 1973’s Five Fingers of Death (aka King Boxer) and the explosion of Bruce Lee, the popular “kung fu craze” was alive and strong in the 70s. This era even influenced Carl Douglas’ to record the song “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting,” which became a major hit. So Bond producers strategically cashed-in on the “Chopsocky” mania and made sure 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun was heavily infused with some kung fu/karate action. In one fight scene, Bond (Roger Moore), who realizes he doesn’t stand a chance against Charlie Chan You Lam (The Secret Rivals, Part II), takes Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon advice: “Never take your eyes off your opponent, even when you bow,” which results in Bond’s victorious escape. The film also stars Soon-Teck Oh (the villain in Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action 2) and Yuen Qiu (Kung Fu Hustle, Dragon Claws).
Licence to Kill
1989’s Licence to Kill, featuring Timothy Dalton as Bond, marked the return of ninjas, which we haven’t seen in a Bond film since You Only Live Twice, 22 years earlier. Although the ninjas (technically, they’re Hong Kong narcotic agents, which doesn’t really make sense) show up for a short amount of time; the sequence can be seen as either memorable or out-of-place, depending on one’s taste. The ninjas are played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) and actress/model Diana Lee-Hsu.
Tomorrow Never Dies
In this 1997 Bond flick, Hong Kong action star, Michelle Yeoh (In the Line of Duty), joins forces with Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to take on an evil media mogul (Jonathan Pryce). Because Yeoh’s character – a Chinese secret agent who knows kung fu – isn’t your typical damsel in distress, she’s highly regarded as one of the most unforgettable Bond girls. Not only is she a real “co-star” alongside Brosnan, she also gets a chunk of action-packed screen time, courtesy of Hong Kong-based stuntmen, most notably, Philip Kwok (Five Deadly Venoms).
But wait, there’s more…
The James Bond franchise’ association with Asian Cinema doesn’t stop within the 007 films themselves. The late Richard Kiel (“Jaws” from 1977’s Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker) played a similar character in Tsui Hark’s 1984 action caper Aces Go Places 3 (aka Mad Mission 3: Our Man from Bond Street), a Hong Kong production that stars Sam Hui (Naughty! Naughty!), Karl Maka (Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon), Sugiyama Tsuneharu (an Oddjob wannabe), and get this: Sean Connery’s brother, Neil (Operation Kid Brother) as “Mr. Bond.” Kiel would also team up with Jackie Chan in Golden Harvest’s all-star 1984 comedy Cannonball Run II (the first Cannonball Run film, which also stars Chan, includes Roger Moore, who portrays a Bond-like character).
To be continued…
I can sit here and make connections between Bond movies and Asian/martial arts cinema for days (I didn’t even mention all the Bond knock-off films made in Japan and Hong Kong in the 60s), but for now, I’ll end it here.