BEIJING -- James Bond -- and the bikini -- are making their first appearance on Chinese movie screens. But the actor playing the secret agent is no Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton. He's a good-looking, blue-eyed but slightly pudgy businessman from a small town in California.
Ron D. Cohen, 36, came to China to visit his American girlfriend, who was teaching English here. He never expected to end up in the movies.
"All the director told me was, 'We can't afford to pay you much, but you'll be famous all over China,' " he said.
Total screen time: less than 1 1/2 minutes. Total salary: 60 yuan (about $16), enough for dinner at one of Beijing's best hotels.
"The Green Jade Mah-Jongg" is the first movie by Yu Xiaoyang, at 28 the youngest director at the Beijing film studio. Besides the character of hard-drinking police chief Chen Ting, a drastic change from the idealized cop in most Chinese movies, this detective story features unusual scenes from the fast life of Beijing's privileged youth, including couples embracing on a makeshift dance floor and other youths in dark glasses and leather jackets hurling themselves into breakdancing.
And for the first time in a Chinese movie, it shows women body builders -- in bikinis.
According to Yu, the film is supposed to show how the turbulent Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 twisted the lives of many Chinese, destroying personal relationships. But viewers might conclude that the message is: Greed does not pay. Those in the film who struggle for possession of a priceless set of green jade mah-jongg tiles suffer the fates of madness, prison and death.
Like other directors in China these days, the ebullient Yu has been under pressure to make money. Commercialization is the new trend in the industry. Yu kept to a budget of only 540,000 yuan (about $146,000) and said his film has two aims -- to get as close to real life as possible and to make a profit, a big profit.
He said he introduced the James Bond character as a gesture toward international understanding. (He hopes to export the film.) The woman in the bikini was thrown in, he explained, because Bond's one weakness is women and he could not be presented without one.
"I told the director, 'James Bond always does love scenes,' " said Cohen. " 'Why don't I do love scenes?'
"He said, 'How would you like to carry a beautiful girl in your arms?' "
In his one brief scene, Cohen, barely recognizable, lifts a bikini-clad woman off her feet with one arm, dashes for cover behind a stone lion and opens fire with an automatic rifle on Police Chief Chen. Armed only with a pistol, Chen is more than a match for Bond.
Cohen said he fell the first few times he tried to run carrying the woman because "she was simply too heavy."
Yu originally thought of having Chen kill Bond, but it was pointed out to him that this might anger foreigners who see the film.
The appearance of this new film is a sign that Communist authorities are lifting controls over the arts in the wake of October's Party Congress, which saw the retirement of party ideologues who led a drive against bourgeois, or Western, influences. Yu did take the advice of the government film bureau in altering some scenes but said this did not amount to censorship, because the officials gave "suggestions" rather than "instructions."
As suggested, Yu cut down to a few seconds a gory scene of doctors dissecting a young woman's body in an autopsy. It originally lasted an excruciating six minutes and succeeded in nauseating several members of the cast. He also shortened scenes of a cow giving birth, a man eating raw mutton with chopsticks, two women affectionately sharing a glass of wine in bed, and a woman singer sensually eating a banana.
Meanwhile, back in Pleasant Hill, Calif., the erstwhile star is selling electronic banking equipment. And no one's asking for his autograph.
"I find it hard to relate to the fact that I'm just Ron Cohen here," he said, "not 007 for 1 billion people."