(AP) - After getting the bad end of his own ax in a fight, a bloodied villain limps alone in a stark desert. Mathieu Amalric stumbles to the red, rocky ground. "CUT!" rings loudly from the set of the 22nd James Bond film.
Picking up an hour after "Casino Royale" left off, "Quantum of Solace" is the spy franchise's first direct sequel. Filming began in January and has taken the crew from Britain to Panama to this moonlike landscape in northern Chile, which is standing in for Bolivia.
It's a place that director Marc Forster said evokes Bond's "isolation and loneliness."
"He is an assassin, he is a secret agent, and that reflects a certain lifestyle, which is lonely," said Forster.
Indeed, the big news on the set is that one of the two Bond girls, Olga Kurylenko, doesn't get in even a single kiss with star Daniel Craig. ("Why would I be disappointed?" Kurylenko insisted. "I'm just doing my work.")
The question is: Do audiences want an emo Bond?
Craig says not to worry too much.
"We're not making a kitchen sink drama here. We are making a Bond movie," he said. "What Marc wanted and the producers and what I wanted is to bring back a visual flair to the movie, so that every frame in every shot that we see is beautiful. And there may be things exploding, but they're good to look at."
Still, Forster, the youngest-ever Bond director at 39, was hired on by longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson because of his emotionally intense films like "Monster's Ball" and "The Kite Runner."
Despite the heightened realism of the last Bond film, not to mention its commercial success (over $500 million worldwide), the German-born Swiss director was wary of joining the bombastic franchise.
Forster negotiated with producers to ensure he had as much creative control as possible on the $200 million-plus production. Nevertheless, he's still squeezed into the "framework of Bond."
"But I like it because you feel like it can make you very creative," he said. "And a lot of interesting things come out of that. Because, if you look at filmmakers that worked under politically repressive regimes, (they) made sometimes really interesting movies."
Filming is about halfway done on "Quantum," which is the name of the organization Bond is going up against. Craig said the emotional tone is lighter than "Casino Royale," in which Bond's lover Vesper Lynd betrayed him and then died - but only a smidgen so.
"It's kind of Bond's journey into, at first we think it's vengeance, but it goes somewhere else," Craig said. "They've killed the love of his life, this organization, and we don't know who this organization are, and he needs to find out who they are. And it's for personal reasons but also professional reasons."
Craig said that aside from some communications equipment, "Quantum" puts little emphasis on gee-whiz electronics.
"The Aston Martin's there, and that's still the best gadget we have," he said.
During reporters' visit to the set, Forster was filming the climax. Offices and a lodge underneath one of the world's largest telescopes at Paranal Observatory acted as an eco-hotel, used by the villain. Back in London, it would be re-created - in order to be blown up, Broccoli said.
Craig fired into the skylight above the offices, and Kurylenko's character Camille ran separately off the roof of the building, flipping into a balcony. Amalric, playing the villain Dominic Greene, roamed the set in post-Bond fight makeup, bloodied and bruised on his cheeks.
A French director and actor known internationally for his star turn in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Amalric was allowed no shortcuts to villaindom.
"No scars, no eye that bleeds, no metal jaw," he said. "I tried everything to have something to help me. I said to Marc: No nothing? A beard? 'No.' Can I shave my hair? 'No. Just your face.'"
Craig, muscles flexing under a dark polo shirt, said he was exercising more than he had on the "Casino Royale" set, to avoid injuries when doing his own stunts.
He laughingly steered conversation away from health concerns. "It's just not very Bond-like," he said. "Bond should be able to do ten press-ups, then smoke 60 cigarettes, and then drink a bottle of something and pop a pill, I think."
Kurylenko, a 28-year-old Ukranian-born model-actress with few films to her credit, said her character also has "a masculine spirit."
"When she meets Bond, it clashes," she said. "She's careful and she doesn't trust that easily. So basically with men, she either uses them, or if they're no use, and she sees that they can't serve her, then she throws them away."
There have been several noteworthy confrontations around on the Bond production so far. In Panama, riots near the set forced a shift in schedule. And in Chile, a local mayor interrupted production claiming producers didn't get his permission.
National media has reported on Chileans' disappointment in not seeing more of Craig during his stay in their country. And in a separate controversy, Chile-as-Bolivia has not been a popular choice, either: Hurt feelings remain between the South American neighbors over an 1879-84 war in which Chile took Bolivia's Pacific coastline. The two have not had diplomatic relations since 1978.
"We knew there was a war 100 years ago, but we didn't know it was still an issue," Wilson said.
Next, the eternal question: What's next for Bond?
Wilson said he expected Bond production to pause for at least a year following "Quantum of Solace."
"I need a break for a little while," he said.
Forster said he won't be back for Bond 23.
"If I would ever do a big movie again in that size," he said, "it has to be my own franchise, which I would create from scratch, which I would cast, create the look and really create the franchise on my own."
And Craig, who turned 40 while filming in Panama, said he'd keep playing Bond - so long as the quality remains high.
"I want them to stand alone and be good films," he said. "As long as that continues, then we'll keep making them. And if it doesn't, then we'll stop."