James Bond's China Is More Glamorous Than Our Chinese Food

Francois Duhamel/United Artists/Columbia Pictures
Craig hunts an assassin in an empty Shanghai high-rise.
The Dinner: Chicken and Cashews, at Uptown China (200 Queen Anne Ave. N.).

The Movie: Skyfall, at Cinerama (2100 Fourth Ave.).

The Screenplate: James Bond drinks plenty in Skyfall, which marks the 50th anniversary of the 007 series on film, but he never eats. Maybe that's one reason Daniel Craig looks so good in his tailored suits. Ian Fleming's secret agent has always been a suave epicure, with a taste for dry martinis, expensive cars, and beautiful women, but what happened to the pleasures of fine dining? Though there's much to enjoy in this somewhat overstuffed Bond adventure (the 23rd installment runs almost two and one-half hours, extending back to his childhood traumas), Fleming's old appetites have been suppressed. This is Bond on an Atkins diet, which makes Skyfall difficult to pair with dinner...

Skyfall opens with a bang in Istanbul, where Bond motorcycles across rooftops in pursuit of a stolen hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents working for MI6. (Okay, mundane premise; and the movie likewise feels behind the technology curve with its sneering cyber villain, but depth of character will prevail over gadgetry.) Craig, as in his last two Bond outings, is muscular and convincing in the chase sequence, which leads him to the top of a train speeding across a chasm ... but you've surely seen the trailer, right? We know he's not been killed by a rifle shot and fall to the river below. The main problem for us is Turkish cuisine. Ephesus is all the way over in West Seattle, too far from the Cinerama.

Then, for Bond at least, after some drinking on a Mediterranean beach (a sequence that might've been enjoyably extended, like a Lonely Planet detour), it's back to London to get new orders from M (Judi Dench). The hard-drive thief is said to be in Shanghai, so--after some dull rehab and psychological evaluation--007 jets off to China. That leads to Skyfall's best sequence, as Bond tracks the assassin (Ola Rapace) in an empty high-rise, their images bouncing and obscured among glass walls by the neon outside. The two figures are like spectral doubles, two killers in the service of different employers with international reach and ambition. This long, suspenseful cat-and-mouse scene echoes a line later uttered by an MI6 superior (Ralph Fiennes): "There are no more shadows" in the spy game, the implication being that the visibly graying Bond is verging on obsolescence, that computers and satellites have made field agents redundant. The bulk of Skyfall is entertainingly devoted to 007 proving his boss wrong.

Anyway, Shanghai leads to Macau, making our choice of cuisine easy: Chinese. Back in the Bond era of, say, Roger Moore, our hero was more of a sit-down dinner kind of guy, someone who stopped to savor a meal before bedding his date. Not anymore. So I opted for the sort of convenient, mid-range Chinese restaurant where one of 007's subordinates might eat--for instance the new Q (a rumpled young Ben Whishaw, one of several new cast members being introduced to Bond franchise). Pedaling home to Queen Anne, I stopped at Uptown China, which has always suffered in my mind from not actually being in Uptown proper (despite the name), but near the Denny Way border to Belltown. It's an unfussy place without much Chinese decor. The bartender knows the regulars, and the tables are wiped down promptly. It's clean and well-lit, but nowhere nearly so romantic and red-lantern-adorned as the Macau casino where Bond meets a helpful beauty (Bérénice Marlohe) and battles a bad guy in a pit full of Komodo dragons.

Komodo dragons not being on the menu at Uptown China, I opted for a set of six pot stickers ($6.50), chicken with cashew nuts ($10.95), plus some rice and tea. That meant a bill under $25 and leftovers to box for lunch the next day (just as low-paid Q would do). Portions are generous, and the ratio of chicken/cashews to veggies is surprisingly high. (You can always order all-veggie if you prefer.) The pot stickers were spicy but the too chewy; next time I'll try the spring rolls. Eat in the bar, and you can watch sports on two screens, the volume thankfully muted.

Bond also watches TV in Skyfall, as CNN reports the deaths of the agents whose cover was blown by that pesky hard drive. Their lives are merely instrumental to MI6, and Bond has reason to worry that M also views him more as a tool than a man. Craig shows little emotion or appetite in the movie until its moving final scenes; food and women are mere distractions from his lethal job, and he wants to prove himself fit for that job. As a result, though well directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, etc.), the movie risks making Bond just another automaton like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt or Jason Statham's nameless transporter--jumping off bridges and onto trains, never stopping to quip or eat or smell the roses. Prior Bonds were cruel (Connery), flippant (Moore), angry (Dalton), or arch (Brosnan), but those are all aspects of humanity. It's not until late in the film, as Bond's roots are explored, that Skyfall gains some satisfying depth. (There, too, M's character comes into poignant relief.)

However, Bond wouldn't eat at China Uptown, and neither would M, and neither would giggling blonde villain Silva (Javier Bardem), who comes into the picture much too late. Wearing a white disco suit and sporting suspiciously white teeth, Silva is the computer genius/super hacker--again, this is where Skyfall feels really dated, like an AOL dial-up tone from the '90s--who reveals his secret weapon to be ... get ready for it ... servers. Yes, a room full of servers in which he can "point and click" his way to evil and fortune. Captive Bond looks truly bored as Silva explains all this, and so are we. Silva's relationship to M is slightly more interesting (and familiar to readers of Mary Shelley), but Bardem seems wasted. Silva captures Bond. Bond captures Silva. Then during their final Straw Dogs showdown, I found myself thinking, "Hey, computer genius, why not call in the helicopter air strike first? Then send in your goons to clean up."

Still, despite the gray in his beard, Craig should take the money for another Bond outing or two. He brings the most gravity to the role since Connery, and he's the best actor ever to have played the part. But if there's to be a Bond XIV, could we go back in time or confine the action to an island without computers, cell phones, and satellite surveillance? All the technology reduces the man. When, in one of Skyfall's better gags, Bond and M drive north in a vintage Aston Martin DB5, the ride is bouncy and terrible, and he speaks of "going back in time." I might not go back to Uptown China, but the next, hopefully shorter Bond movie should go back to basics.

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