No joking — 007′s in Japan

by Giovanni Fazio

“Quantum Of Solace,” the 22nd film in the 007 series, opened in the U.K. before Halloween, and in the rest of the civilized world a week later. While even Kuwait and Ecuador have seen “Quantum” in their cinemas already, Japan won’t get to see the tuxedoed secret agent until Jan. 24. (Presumably Sony, the film’s distributor, doesn’t fear that shadowy evil organization known as file-traders.)

Arriving in Tokyo well before their film were director Marc Forster, stars Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko, and producer Barbara Broccoli, who generously shared 20 minutes of their time with Tokyo’s press corps.

“Quantum Of Solace,” which picks up the story mere minutes after the end of “Casino Royale,” sees superspy James Bond (again played by Craig) hot on the trail of the evil organization behind his lover Vesper Lynd’s death in the last film.

While very much a Bond film, with spectacular chase sequences — including a tandem free-fall from an airplane — the choice of art-house director Forster (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”) suggests the series was looking for a makeover.

Forster was asked what it was like making the leap from art-house to a popcorn franchise film.

“It was definitely my first action movie,” said the shaven-domed director, “so I tried to include as much action as I could, because I truly wanted to experiment with it.”

Many have complained that he experimented too much, particularly in the film’s blurry opening car chase, but “Quantum” delivers plenty of thrills. Perhaps Forster improved as he went along: The film was shot in sequence, apparently because, Forster noted, it “didn’t really have a third act, we were writing it as we went along.” The plus side of this was “finding locations and then forming scenes around them, something Hitchcock did,” said the director. The down side was this “was very risky, because it could have gone horribly wrong, starting a project with a release date and no finished script.”

The tight schedule was undoubtedly a result of director Roger Michell, who had worked with Craig on “Enduring Love,” and who was the actor’s first choice to helm the film. Michell went through months of protracted negotiations with the Bond series’ producers, only to bail in the end. In came Forster at the last minute, on the condition he could use his regular crew.

It was also the first action film for new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, a model-turned-actress who plays a vengeance-seeking assassin named Camille, whose path crosses Bond’s. Camille is, notably, the first Bond girl not to sleep with Bond.

Kurylenko spoke about how acting in a 007 film is “just such hard work. I trained every day for six months. It was a sore experience, a lot of bruises, but I’m proud of them.”

Many of the stunts, including jumping out of the wind-swept cargo hatch of an airplane, were daunting, but Kurylenko credits her costar Craig: “I was always looking at him, and if he didn’t look scared, then I wasn’t scared.” Maybe she should have been. Craig did manage to injure his shoulder pretty severely (though he pointed out it’s healing nicely).

Craig himself proved to be a man of relatively few words. When asked whether “Quantum” was a revenge flick, with Bond after those responsible for Vesper’s death, he responded: “He isn’t actually out for revenge, he’s out to find the truth about himself, and the truth about the organization he’s after. He’s also trying to find out whether he loved this woman who broke his heart in the previous movie. He’s trying to find himself.”

Is the world ready for a Bond with emotions? Craig himself gave some sense of acknowledging this is an issue; when asked to give a message to his Japanese fans, he started off saying “Marc Forster has made a beautiful, emotional . . . ” Pause; he then quickly added ” — exciting — action-packed movie.”

Yes, one can have one’s cake and eat it, too.