Tang Lin Zao – A North Korean Agent, Terrorist and Thorn in Bond’s Side
Tang Lin Zao, coomonly known simply as Zao, is a North Korean intelligence agent and terrorist. He is the trusted aide to Gustav Graves, a powerful diamond tycoon, and is a powerful adversary for James Bond in the 2002 film Die Another Day.
Played by American actor, Rick Yune, Zao is a North Korean operative under the command of Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, and stands by him as he goes through gene therapy and takes on the Gustavo Graves persona. The character is also included in the literary adaptation by Raymond Benson. And Rick Yune lends his voice to Zao, for the Activision 2012 James Bond video game, 007 Legends.
At the beginning of the film, James Bond tries to infiltrate Colonel Moon’s camp, masquerading as a diamond smuggler called Van Bierk, with the intent of unmasking Moon. To ensure his safety, Bond primes his diamond suitcase with explosives.
Zao checks on Bond’s identity, and discerns that Bond is a British operative dispatched to assassinate Moon. After informing Moon, the Colonel blows the helicopter up that Bond arrived in, with plans to kill Bond.
However, a call from General Moon, the Colonel’s father, disrupts Zao, informing him of his impending arrival at the base. Hastily, Colonel Moon and his squad evacuate the base with their hovercrafts and armaments, in a bid to conceal their arms trade from General Moon.
Bond is left to the mercy of Moon’s henchmen, but he manages to escape by detonating his diamond-filled suitcase, toppling Zao and the other soldiers, and making a getaway on the last hovercraft. Zao’s face is left disfigured, with several diamonds from the explosion embedded in his face.
Bond is captured by the General and is locked up indefinitely. After this, Zao is arrested by the British Secret Service just as he’s about to detonate a bomb at a China-South Korea summit, killing three Chinese agents in the process.
14 months later, Bond is released from prison and told to walk down a bridge. Bond is expecting to be executed, but he’s part of a prisoner exchange with Zao. Both men pause momentarily to menace each other, before Zao, whose face is now permanently encrusted with diamonds, strides towards the Korean side, and Bond retreats to his own people.
Some people at MI6 believe Bond must have released crucial information while locked up, but Bond denies this and demands to be allowed back into North Korea to hunt Zao down and get critical information on who has framed him.
However, Bond is sent to Havana instead of North Korea, following reports of Zao being sighted there. Bond’s contacts in Havana direct him to the secluded clinic of Dr. Alvarez at Los Organos, where Zao has been spotted.
At the clinic, Bond discovers a hidden pathway behind a concealed door. Here, he encounters Zao, who is in the midst of a transformative procedure aimed at altering his appearance to resemble a European, specifically a German.
Zao lies unconscious, a prerecorded message instilling his new identity and language while he sleeps. But Bond rouses Zao, wanting to get information on who’s funding Zao’s transformation, suspecting this person to be the one who framed him in North Korea.
A brief scuffle ensues in which Bond manages to snatch and remove Zao’s necklace. The terrorist flees the room and despite being chased by Bond and NSA agent Jinx, he escapes the clinic in a helicopter, narrowly avoiding being shot.
Examining the phial from Zao’s necklace, Bond discovers that it contains blood diamonds from Sierra Leone, bearing the signature of diamond dealer Gustav Graves.
Later in Iceland at Gustav Graves’ ice palace, a purpose-built palace made of ice for the Icarus demonstration, Bond meets Graves himself. The megalomaniac indulges in his Dream Machine, but is interrupted by Zao’s unexpected presence.
Graves, seeing his friend for the first time since Zao’s left for Cuba, remarks on his incomplete facial transformation. Zao tells him it was Bond’s doing, and Graves excitedly reveals that he has actually met Bond, who didn’t recognize him at all. Graves then inquires about his father General Moon, and Zao tells him that he continues to grieve his loss.
NSA Agent Jinx, who has also journeyed to Iceland, infiltrates the complex housing Graves’ quarters intending to assassinate Zao, whom she presumes is under the Dream Machine’s mask. However, she’s caught off guard when she unmaskes Zao, and Graves attacks her from behind, clad in his prototype Icarus suit.
Jinx is knocked unconscious, and when she comes around, she’s restrained in a chair within a separate section of the complex. Zao, donned in the Icarus suit, first uses the suit’s electric charge to torture Jinx before questioning her motives for targeting him.
Receiving only insults in return, Zao instructs Graves’ henchman, Mr. Kil, to activate the surrounding lasers to extract information from Jinx, but she passes out from the pain without divulging any secrets.
Zao concludes that she won’t talk, so he hands Kil his gun to finish her off. Instead of shooting Jinx, Kil opts for the laser instead, but this gives Bond time to save her. Jinx then tells Bond that Zao is present and that he likely transported the Dream Machine from Cuba.
Bond then realizes Graves’ true identity is Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, and that he, not Zao, brought the machine, under his new alias Gustav Graves.
Later Bond is taken captive by Graves and is on the verge of being killed by double agent Miranda Frost, but he insults Zao, provoking the terrorist to strike him in the stomach, causing him to collapse on the floor.
Using a specialized ring provided by Q, Bond shatters the glass panel that constitutes the entire floor, tumbling into the level below. This allows Bond to make a quick getaway, so Graves orders Zao to chase and kill him.
But Bond outmaneuvers them, escaping across the icy plains at a high speed. When Zao reports back that Bond had evaded capture, Graves decides there’s no time to lose and decides to activate Icarus, prompting Zao to summon General Dong, General Li & General Han for the demonstration.
While Graves is tracking Bond with Icarus, Zao and Miranda Frost enter the room where Jinx is confined with the intention of assassinating her. Zao is instantly greeted with a kick to the face, but Miranda stops him from retaliating. They tell Jinx that Bond has deserted her, and seal the door once more, planning to kill Jinx in the ensuing palace destruction.
Believing Bond to be dead, Graves leaves Zao to oversee the final preparations at the palace, instructing him to follow once complete. Zao, Frost, and the others then get ready to leave by plane.
As Bond, hidden in his invisible Aston Martin Vanquish, attempts to pinpoint Jinx’s location, one of Zao’s henchmen collides with him on a snowmobile.
Surprised, Zao realizes that Bond is amongst them, so he chase him in his Jaguar XKR, using thermal vision, to see Bond in the invisible car. Zao shoots at Bond with his car-mounted miniguns, causing Bond’s invisibility to fail.
In a high-speed chase across the frozen lake, Bond and Zao launch missiles at each other, but the missiles only collide midair. After a series of maneuvers with neither gaining the upper hand, Zao launches a super missile, which detonates in front of Bond’s car, flipping it upside down on the ice.
As Zao prepares to land another missile, Bond evades the attack by ejecting the passenger seat, flipping his car back upright. Zao passes him and Bond retaliates by firing his machine guns, only to find the Jaguar bulletproof. Zao readies his mortars, but Bond counters with automatic shotguns that detonate the mortars mid-air.
Realizing that Graves has activated Icarus and targeted the ice palace, where Jinx remains trapped, Bond ends the cat-and-mouse chase and races towards the palace, barging through the front doors. Inside, Bond drives up a ramp to the first floor and waits for Zao.
As Zao arrives, he sees Bond’s car stationary in front of him. Zao engages blades on his car’s front and accelerates towards Bond, intending to skewer him. Even though Bond engages his camouflage mode again, Zao remains confident because he knows Bond can only be invisible, not vanish.
However, Bond uses specialized spikes to partially climb the wall, leading Zao to inadvertently drive over the edge of the balcony. Zao then crashes through the ice into the water below, and manages to get out of his car. But as Zao surfaces, Bond discharges an ice chandelier above him, causing it to fall and impale Zao, resulting in his death.
Rick Yune is an Korean/American actor, screenwriter, producer, and martial artist. Born on August 22, 1971, Yune is trained in Taekwondo and Boxing and is a former Olympic-level Taekwondo black belt and Golden Gloves boxer.
He started his career in modeling, becoming the first Asian-American to feature in Versace and Polo Ralph Lauren ads while interning on Wall Street.
In 1999, Yune made his film debut in Snow Falling on Cedars. He gained fame through roles in The Fast and the Furious (2001) and the James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), which earned him a spot on People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” list.
Yune has appeared in several TV series, including Alias, Boston Legal, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and movies like The Fifth Commandment and The Man with the Iron Fists.
In 2013, Yune played a North Korean ultra-nationalist in Olympus Has Fallen, and a Mongol Khan in the series Marco Polo, which he reprised his role for the second season released in 2016.