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James Bond is boring – here are 5 spies that give 007 a run for his money

Infinitely more intriguing: Bourne, Nikita, Powers, Neeson's Mills in Taken and Inspector (Andy) Lau from Infernal Affairs.

Cool confidence, reinforced by the ability to get things done, is hand’s down the core of sex appeal. In an era of superhero blockbusters, we honour the human heroes that have overtaken James Bond in the mojo stakes.

SUPER ACTIVE RETIREE

WHO Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson)

WHERE Taken

Retired CIA operative Bryan Mills is no young stud, not particularly well-dressed, nor an adrenalin junkie. But here’s the thing: Cause his family distress, and this gruff , easygoing suburbanite morphs into a nightmare.

In Taken, he hunts down the human traffickers who grabbed his daughter, rescuing her within 96 hours. His promise to the abductor (“I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you”) is crisp and concise, brutally realised upon anyone who hurts his kin. Lean, fit and ruthless, he strategises, improvises, and dispatches the opposition, without a back-up team or high-tech gadgetry.

Mills, though, is not looking to be a hero. Also, years of service have inured him to death and destruction; he has no issue hurting people. What you have, therefore, is a unique combo of efficient killer and a father with a singular agenda – coupled with piercing confidence and intensity. Sure, his methods may be old-school, but mess with this world-weary family guy, and watch him transmogrify.

IN THREE WORDS FATHER FROM HELL

Adeline Wong

FEMME FATALE

WHO Nikita (Maggie Q)

WHERE Nikita

Women want to be her. Men will want to be wary of her. This femme fatale is more than her svelte figure clad in Herve Leger and Louboutins. Whereas most ladies in Hollywood thrillers play secondary roles to the male leads, Nikita is of the rare breed who takes control of her destiny.

There have been several versions of her backstory but, basically, she was a troubled teen who had been handpicked by a secret government agency that conducts covert operations like espionage and assassinations. Instead of mindlessly carrying out her bosses’ orders to kill, Nikita never loses her humanity and questions her assignments, sometimes even avoiding the kill by exercising ingenuity. How’s that for outwitting cocky management?

In the latest TV series reboot, she turns rogue after the government kills her fiance, and exposes the organisation’s corruption and evil deeds. The unappreciative lot may bellow the common (tired) refrain: Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. But in this age of female empowerment, Nikita represents the trailblazers whose initiatives pave the way for change.

IN THREE WORDS ONE-WOMAN RESISTANCE

Germaine Cheong

Spies

(RELATED: Fonder of arthouse cinema The Projector champions local films before they make it big.)

INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MOJO

WHO Austin Powers (Mike Myers)

WHERE The Austin Powers films

Here’s the thing about mojo – in its strongest, unadulterated form, it’s going to bypass the coy game of cat-and-mouse entirely and inspire instant adulation. Forget the contrived complexity of Bond’s romantic pursuits and enter Austin Powers’ world, where a buck-toothed and excessively hairy spy makes the ladies swoon, even with the lewdest passes. Let’s not forget he made off into the sunset with his drop-dead gorgeous partner, played by Elizabeth Hurley.

His irrepressible sexuality takes centre stage for two more films. The sum of his magnetism: He never takes himself too seriously, and together with an ensemble of raucous characters, consistently delivers comedic bolts from the blue.

There’s no arguing either that Powers has got fashion cornered – he’s worked bold pinstripe suits, frilly dress shirts, shaggy carrot-top hair and rimmed spectacles. It’s hard to see any other candidate on this list pulling off an orange suit. His sexual confi dence is uplifting to the everyman. Let’s face it: How many of us have the chiselled form of the conventional action hero? Exactly.

IN THREE WORDS HAIRY, HORNY, HILARIOUS

Liao Xiangjun

COOL CHAMELEON

WHO Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau)

WHERE Infernal Affairs

In the quietly stylish Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, you won’t find anyone scaling the Burj Khalifa or dodging baddies in an Aston Martin accompanied by an Eastern European bombshell. But what sets Lau Kin Ming – a high-ranking cop whose actual identity is that of a gangster who entered the police force as a spy 10 years ago – apart is the smarts and guts that enabled him to rise through the ranks of two conflicting worlds over a decade: the seemingly righteous realm of law enforcers, versus an underworld populated by gangsters who think nothing of flinging opponents off rooftops, but are also ready to lay down their lives in the name of brotherhood.

With easy charm, subtle gravitas and occasional ruthlessness, Lau navigates his double life as a triad spy, even as he finds himself increasingly comfortable in his role as a respected cop. And he does so in style: Whether he is smoothly playing double agent twice over by pretending to help a fellow gangster while using him to get information on criminal activity, or shooting his triad chief in the face – he coolly does so in suits as effortlessly sharp as his cheekbones. That’s what I call mojo.

IN THREE WORDS COMPLEX, CHARISMATIC, COOL

Lynette Koh

REFORMED ASSASSIN

WHO Jason Bourne (Matt Damon)

WHERE The Bourne films

No one who has watched The Bourne Identity can forget the moment the titular character, an amnesiac on a mission to regain his memory, regains his near-superhuman fighting skills. His quick dispatch of two interrogative policemen in a wintry Swiss park is a revelation both to him and the audience. Bourne makes us go “phwoar” time and again, sometimes when we least expect it. Who knew objects such as pens and newspapers could be weapons of destruction?

Yet, despite his skills and smarts, Bourne can be hurt – and it’s this vulnerability that makes him even more attractive. A limping Bourne evading the police in Berlin, a shot Bourne outdriving his assassin in Moscow; they draw attention to the fact he’s blood and bone. Women, despite knowing the danger involved, throw in their lot with him — all without Bourne having to don a suit, much less a tuxedo. That’s true mojo.

IN THREE WORDS HERO WHO BLEEDS

Jennifer Chen