the quasi-equality of Tomorrow Never Dies

Political correctness is now more than ever before an understatement in contemporary popular culture. Equality is not only generally accepted but also generally expected.

I just saw Tomorrow Never Dies, the James Bond movie of 1997. It featured what was somewhat trendy back then - an asian sidekick knowledgable of martial arts. The character is called Wai Lin and is portrayed by** Michelle Yeoh**.

Wai Lin is assumably strong and independent. In the first half of the movie, she’s portrayed as a female counter-part to James Bond - they show up at the same places under the same circumstances and are both skilled in their professions. It’s obvious that the movie producers used Wai Lin’s character as a “sign of the times”-type of strong female that was getting more popular.


The more Wai Lin affiliates with james Bond, the more corrupted she gets. Her ideas and actions are simply not worth as much as his.

  1. She first objects to being James Bond’s partner. Bond does not tolerate no for an answer and hunts her down to her domain where she is under attack. She handles all the bad guys except one, the one Bond hits from behind. Their partnership is now a fact, since James Bond, the alpha-male, says it’s so.

  2. Wai Lin proceeds by uncovering massive desks and shelves of modern equipment, featuring hi-tech computers and weapons. James Bond tells her to step aside, even though she’s obviously perfectly aware of what she’s doing. When James Bond can’t go on, due to the computer keyboard being mandarin, he still insists on co-opping her.

  3. Inside of the enemy’s stealth boat, where the final showdown takes place, James Bond gives a final knock to a bad guy that Wai Lin just gave a several beating, seemingly to make sure things are still in check.
    These are of course only details in the bigger picture, but when you follow the interactions between Bond and Lin throughout the movie, one thing is perfectly clear: Wai Lin is intended to be strong and cool and modern, but God forbid she would be equal to Bond. And that is not only speaking of the concept of the Bond movie itself, since Bond has always been a lone wolf kind of character. But it’s obvious that there are a lot of unspoken gender structures that are seemingly forgiven just because the female lead, Wai Lin, can kick and bite.

Because it’s a James Bond movie, and not a Wai Lin movie?

No, because a male partner would be treated with more respect.

Have to agree with BMax. Also, will add that if Bond had had a male partner, more than likely the part would have been portrayed even more subservient. Bond would be getting the young doofus’s ass out of trouble and in general being an Alpha Male toward him.

Sir Rhosis

I thought Wai Lin was MUCH more interesting than Bond. I’d pay to see a movie based on her… while I’m unlikely to ever pay for a Bond movie again. Bond’s become too much of a parody of himself.

Wai Lin kicked butt.

IIRC there was talk about a movie featuring the character, because she “tested” more popular than Bond.

Regarding equality, her portrayal was still a massive step up from the female Bond women of the past, who were basically penis ornaments.

…um… No. Bond has had several partnerships with other male agents and I think only Felix Lighter has ever been shown to be somewhat equal to James.

And the way Yeoh played the character she always seemed bemused by Bond. Like she was humoring him.

No, his male partners are only around to assist him before they get eaten by sharks. His female partners stand a much better chance of sticking around until the end of the movie, where they keep each other from freezing to death by doing the naked horizontal macarena.

I remember back when that movie was new. They were trying to get a Wai Lin movie going.

It never happened(obviously).

Been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I don’t really remember much about it, but just going off the decriptions provided by the OP, I come up with very different readings.

Is it that Bond won’t take no, or that he can’t take no? Doesn’t his mission depend on securing her assistance? It doesn’t sound at all like they join up because “the alpha male says so.” If that’s all there was to it, then she would have joined up with him immediately. Rather, it sounds like he was required to prove his worthiness before she would work with him. First by tracking down her hideout, showing his intelligence, then by taking out the last assailant, showing his skills in combat.

Also, I think you’re misusing the term “alpha male” her by trying to use it to describe Bond’s position of dominance over Wai Lin. As I understand the term, alpha male refers to one male’s dominance over other males in his pack, not over the females, who have their own hierarchy.

This sounds like an obvious joke at Bond’s expense. He tries to take over (not necessarily out of sexism, so much as his own natural arrogance) and Wai Lin lets him because she knows it’s futile. The scene sounds clearly designed to deflate Bond’s ego, although being Bond, he still handles it suavely, which I suspect you’re misreading as him “co-opting” her.

There not enough detail here to really understand what’s going on, or what you’re specific complaint is.

Bond is the protagonist of the film, so yes, he should have primacy over supporting characters. This has nothing to do with gender, and indeed, Wai Lin is given more status than any other partner or sidekick in the franchise’s history, men included. There’s certainly plenty of material for feminist criticism in the Bond films, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree on this one.

Semi-related, I’m a big fan of Carey Lowell’s first scene in License to Kill. She meets Bond (Timothy Dalton) in a seedy waterfront bar in Florida. During the covnersation, she asks if he’s armed. He leans forward slightly, letting his jacket open enough to let her see his shoulder holster and Walther PPK. She rolls her eyes and leans back a little in her chair, letting him see the shotgun she has across her lap.

Or so I recall. I haven’t seen it in a while.

Which is stupid, because Bond took a triple first in oriental languages, which almost certainly would have given him a strong enough working knowledge of mandarin.

TND is right at the bottom of my heap of Bond films, for this and many more reasons.


Well, my point was to nit-pick on the subtle details in what is supposed to be one of the more equal of the Bond movies. Complaining on the gender roles in the Bond movies of the 60’s is just obvious and futile.

I still think it’s a shallow direction to let Wai Lin have coordination skills in vain. She might act bemused by Bond’s actions, but the fact remains that she is stepped on throughout the movie.

At least that’s honest. Wai Lin would certainly be eaten by sharks too if it weren’t for Bond’s carnal desires. Who knows, she probably did after the ending credits rolled.

Johnny L.A. Did a James Bond Film Festival Including TND in that I noted that Yeoh did all her own stunts…

In promotion Director Roger Spottiswoode said he intended that Yeoh come across as a female 007 not a Bond babe. “It’s about time you have a woman who matches up to Bond,” says Spottiswoode. “Yeoh not only is intelligent but she is a martial arts expert who performs most of her own stunts.”

You guys know that that Yeoh is a big action star in Hong Kong in movies like “The Heroic Trio” or “Supercop” and Crouching Tiger - and just mean star in an American Film I assume

You’ve got it right. It’s about the only redeeming thing about that film.

You’ve seen a Bond film or a few, right? Because virtually any male partner Bond has dies in some gruesome fashion before the end of the third reel. See Dr. No (Quarrel, immolated), From Russia With Love (Ali Kerim Bey, garotted), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hammond, tortured, hung, frozen), For Your Eyes Only (nameless assistant, garotted), The Living Daylights (Saunders, killed by sliding door), et cetera. In fact, being a male partner to Bond virtually guarantees that you’re going to die, unless you’re Felix Lieter/Jack Wade, whereas the women generally have a pretty good survival rate.

Wai Lin did kick butt (and Michelle Yeoh is beauty personified). But the new Bond film, Casino Royale, seems to be shaping up into something that seriously diverges from the parody-making films of the last decade (or the Moore-era Bond movies) and into something more like an early Connery film or the lamented underrated Dalton films. I’m cautiously optimistic about it, though I wonder how the viewing public will receive a non-goofy Bond.


Sorry, “coordination skills?”

I dunno. It doesn’t seem like you’ve demonstrated that at all in this thread. You’re complaint seems to chiefly be that, in a James Bond film, they didn’t let someone other than James Bond hog the spotlight.

So, wait a minute. We have a movie where Bond finally gets partnered with someone who is virtually his equal, who makes it through the entire film without being shot, strangled, electrocuted, or consumed by wildlife, and who is a female who doesn’t exsist just to be a sexual conquest, and you’re insisting that the only reason she didn’t die is because of “Bond’s carnal desires?” That makes virtually no sense at all. What would a Bond film have to do to include a female character in a non-sexist manner, in your view? Or do you think that’s even possible?


I think perhaps part of the issue people have is that Bond, himself, is pretty damn chauvinistic. Even if the movie doesn’t portray a female character in a sexist manner, Bond is likely to treat that character in a sexist manner. It’s part of the character, and a part that I for one don’t think should be removed. The problem arises when (some) viewers assume that because Bond is the hero he’s beyond criticism. In fact, Bond is (as M points out with some frequency) reckless, irresponsible, arrogant, immature, etc. And sexist. And maddenly effective. He wouldn’t be half as entertaining if he didn’t have all the flaws he does.

I see a good future of film analysis for you, cactus waltz

One thing you will notice is that in ALL movies, nearly every single one, it is ultimately a male that drives the action. Women may do stuff and even have strong roles, but it is almost every single time a male that moves the narrative forward.

It is indeed the chauvinism that is the matter here. Several posters in this thread have brought up the failure of several male partners but for this matter thay are uninteresting. I see that a) Wai-Lin is more successful in performing her tasks than her male predecessors were but the fact remains that b) Wai-Lin fills a different purpose. She is supposed to be a female force and a sign of the time whereas the male partners were only semi-rivals to Bond. This is in a way shared by Wai-Lin as well. The difference is that where the male partners died, Wai-Lin is repeatedly saved and bossed by Bond, to make her character dependant of Bond and not as much of a threat as she were before.

Bond also upholds his chauvinistic attitude he’s always had and he shows it towards Wai-Lin (pushing her away to use her computer). And it’s fine for a character to have flaws. It makes the character human. But in real life, bad attitudes lead to consequences and a good story moral should follow such a pattern. Instead, Bond is constantly triumphant, even his colleagues only seem to humour him (making jokes about “pumping” Paris Carver for information). His chauvinism is thusly awarded and it’s just *that * that contradicts Wai-Lin as a strong character. No matter how strong she is, James Bond’s stone age POV goes unharmed.

Kill Bill?