Zao is a North Korean secret agent and terrorist. He appears in the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day, as the main henchman for the villain, Gustav Graves. He is played by American actor Rick Yune.
Originally a Korean operative under the command of Col. Tan-Sun Moon, Zao aided his superior in illegal arms deals at the North Korean Demilitarized Zone. In one such deal, Bond attempted to infiltrate Moon's base, posing as a diamond smuggler called Van Bierk, hoping to expose Moon. Bond rigged his case of diamonds with explosives as a safety measure. Having his cover blown upon arrival at the DMZ, Bond detonated the case, causing Zao's face to become embedded with the stones. After Moon's apparent death in the assault, Bond had been captured and incarcerated by the North Korean military, allowing Zao to escape. Zao subsequently went rogue, attempting to carry out orders while incognito. Sometime later, Zao attempted to attack a summit between the Chinese and the South Koreans. Though he succeeded in killing three Chinese agents, the North Korean was ultimately apprehended by UN forces. Zao was then handed over to the British, who used him as a bargaining chip to rescue Bond, who had been held captive by Moon's father for fourteen months.
With Bond back in MI6 custody, Zao was now a free man. Zao then traveled to Cuba, planning to receive the same gene therapy as Moon to alter his appearance. However, Bond found the lab and halted the procedure before it was completed. Zao was now left as a streamlined, eel-like albino with silvery eyes and no body hair whatsoever. Zao fought Bond to a draw and escaped again. During his escape, NSA Agent Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson attempted to shoot Zao, but failed.
Zao caught up with Moon, who through a course of gene therapy, was now reinvented as Sir Gustav Graves. Bond, however, had figured out Graves' true identity and escaped in his invisible car. Ordered to kill Bond, Zao got into his modified Jaguar XKR, activated thermal imaging and chased Bond and his Aston Martin Vanquish across the ice plains using a number of deadly weapon emplacements installed in the Jaguar, such as a gun that rose from the rear section of the car.
The chase led back to the melting ice palace, where Bond used the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish's adaptive camouflage to fool Zao into driving into the melted ice while the latter attempted to ram the Vanquish with the Jaguar's front retractable battering ram. Bond shot down a chandelier which landed on Zao as he tread the freezing water, impaling him. The chandelier was, fittingly, made from diamonds.
Behind the scenes
- Despite the character being a North Korean, Zao is not a Korean name, and therefore cannot be written in Korean since the language has no "z" sound (although it is possible to transcribe it as Jao, ). However, the word itself coincidentally means evil in serbo-croatiagn. The name "Zao" does not exist in Chinese either.