I tell Brit friends 007 gets it right on glamorous Shanghai
By Emily Ford
IT is Tuesday afternoon. An e-mail arrives from someone who has just been to see the new James Bond film, which it turns out, is partly set in Shanghai.
"Shanghai looks great in 'Skyfall!," the friend, who I haven't heard from in months, enthuses. "I really must come visit you some time!"
Later that day I receive another e-mail, this time from an old colleague. "Shanghai looks spectacular at night!" he writes, with what sounds like surprise. "Is it nice at night?"
"Wow, Shanghai looks great in the new James Bond movie," a press officer who I have never met writes to me in an e-mail. "You must have serious fun living there. Wink face."
I have not seen the new James Bond, but under the world's admiring gaze, I start to glow with pride for my adopted city.
"Yes, it's pretty great," I e-mail back. "It's just like in the film, really."
For a worrying moment it occurs to me that my friends back home may have an overly generous impression of my life in China. "They must think that I lead a very glamorous life here," I think, as I go downstairs to buy sink un-blocker for the third time that week. "Maybe I shouldn't let them come visit after all."
Yet it strikes me that Shanghai is the perfect setting for a James Bond. China is quite clearly a land of mystery and intrigue, while the death-dodging habits of drivers in the city mean you can see live action scenes on the roads every day of the week.
"What a great idea to make a film about a British spy in China," I think. "You wouldn't make a spy film set in Belgium, for example. Plus, there are loads of Lamborghinis here."
Later, I discover to my disappointment that some of the Shanghai part of the film may actually have been shot in London. A friend works in the city's skyscraper district and swears that she saw them filming outside her office.
"It still looks like Shanghai," I tell myself. "Most people will think it is Shanghai, not London. Still, it's infuriating."
That evening, my mum phones. She has an endearing habit of calling me every time the Great Wall, a panda or any other China-related object appears on television, endlessly astonished at the miraculously coincidental nature of the world that someone might be reporting on the country in which her daughter happens to live.
"I went to see the new James Bond with your brother at the weekend and it's all about Shanghai!" she shouts down the phone. "I recognized it! It's the best thing in the film! I said, 'That's where my girl is!' They climb out of one of those big buildings, you know, that you have there."
The next day, I am at a lunch event when the discussion turns to Ling Ling Qi or "007," as he is known in Chinese. A fierce debate erupts among the women present over who is the most handsome Bond. The Brits overwhelmingly prefer Pierce Brosnan, while the Chinese are firmly in the Daniel Craig camp.
"The new one is more manly," one of the Chinese journalists says. "And I like his hair."
Another says darkly that she believes our action hero may not be who we think he is.
"They say that British men are all gentlemen, but they're not," she sniffs. "I dated a British guy once. He wouldn't even open the door for me."
I feel pained at the shortcomings of my male countrymen. With a pang, I realize that I am not only responsible for what my British friends think about Shanghai, but for what my Chinese acquaintances believe about British men. It is a stressful position to be in.
"You found the exception that proves the rule," I tell her. "Most British men are just like James Bond, really."