Michelle Yeoh has just been named “Icon of the Year” by Time Magazine. It’s easy to see why. In addition to her brilliant performance in 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, Yeoh was great in 2021’s Marvel epic Shang-Chi, and, since 2017, has been rocking the final frontier of the multiverse as two versions of Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery. For those of us who remember Yeoh taking our breath away in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the year 2000, her icon status has been omnipresent. But, 25 years ago, in 1997, Yeoh also starred in what is perhaps the most underrated action movie of the 1990s; Tomorrow Never Dies.
Twenty-five years after its London debut on December 9, 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies feels less like a 007 flick, and more like a rom-com vehicle for Michelle Yeoh and Pierce Brosnan. Yes, this is a James Bond movie first, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great ‘90s date night flick, too. As the world celebrates the greatness of Yeoh, it’s a great time to revisit this criminally underrated Bond movie.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) meets his match when he and Chinese Secret Service agent Wai-Lin (Michelle Yeoh) are assigned to the same case. Of course, because this is Bond, he ends up being very attracted Wai-Lin which results in some memorable handcuff action, a motorcycle, and one makeout scene in an outdoor shower. Oddly, this idea — of 007 hooking up with a sexy secret agent who works for another government — doesn’t happen as often as you’d think in other James Bond movies. Other than Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Timothy Dalton’s License To Kill (1989), and, Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day, all the other James Bond movies feature 007 love interests who don’t share his exact occupation. It’s possible that in Skyfall, we could count Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), but because she also works for M16, that feels more like a workplace romance, than two spies messing around.
No offense to Roger Moore and Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me, but the meet-cute aspects of Bond and Wai-Lin’s relationship hold up much better. Although it was made a quarter of a century ago, the Brosnan era feels closer in social sensibilities to today than any of the other Bond movies, except, of course, the Daniel Craig films. Still, it’s easy to forget that it was in Brosnan’s era that Judi Dench’s “M” was introduced as Bond’s boss, shaking up the boys’ club of these movies significantly. And while GoldenEye brought James Bond into a more enlightened, less overtly sexist era, Tomorrow Never Dies was the moment in which he met his equal.
In fact, will all due respect to Halle Berry, Eva Green, and Léa Seydoux, it’s difficult to find a better “Bond Girl” than Yeoh’s Wai-Lin. The script treats her as an equal, and even though Bond and Wa-Lin hook up, the film puts her in control, not Bond.
The scene that best encapsulates the rom-com aspects of Tomorrow Never Dies are when James Bond and Wai-Lin have to drive a motorcycle together, since, again, they’re handcuffed. As Bond barks orders at her, Wai-Lin shoots back, “Who’s driving?! Come on!” Again, you could imagine a comedy version of this, and the scene would be absurd if it weren’t so badass. Everything about Brosan and Yeoh is sexy and fun in this movie. This means the only crime is, that Yeoh’s not in more of the film, and, never appeared in a sequel, even though she totally should have.
Wai-Lin was such a popular character, that in early drafts of Brosnan’s final Bond movie, Die Another Day, Yeoh was originally set to reprise her role. But, because Yeoh chose to film the movie The Touch in 2002, she passed on coming back. As result, Die Another Day is less awesome than Tomorrow Never Dies, and the Bond franchise missed an opportunity at creating a secret agent character who could have easily starred in her own spinoff movies.
In both Star Trek: Discovery and Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh navigates different parallel worlds. Perhaps, there’s one parallel world out there where she got her own series of 007 films. Because when you rewatch Tomorrow Never Dies, it’s hard to understand why it didn’t happen.
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