- "Let us hope these momentary lapses do not become a habit. Your power exists to serve me. And it is mine to control. If and when the time comes, I decide that you are to lose it; I myself will take it away!"
- ― Dr. Kananga to Solitaire
Drug baron and dictator of a fictitious Caribbean island named San Monique, Kananga is loosely based on the main villain of Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die. Like his novel counterpart, Kananga adopts the alias "Mr. Big" to conduct his illicit activities, however the difference of novel and film versions of the character are radically different to the point of being completely different people.
Dr. Kananga, operating under the alias "Mr. Big", is a businessman and owner of a chain of restaurants in New York City and New Orleans called "Fillet of Soul". As Big, he is also the head of one of the most vicious street gangs in Harlem. Kananga is the de facto dictator of the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique and thus has certain diplomatic immunities in the United States easily allowing him to smuggle drugs into the country.
Kananga grows vast quantities of opium in San Monique's poppy fields under the protection of large camouflage nets and guarded by the mystical Baron Samedi. Using the poppies, Kananga hopes to flood the U.S. market with two tonnes of heroin distributed through his legitimate restaurants free of charge, thus forcing other drug dealers out of business. In doing so, he believes that he would double the amount of addicts, which he would be able to exploit with his newfound monopoly.
Kananga attracts the attention of the Secret Intelligence Service when three British agents are killed in the space of twenty-four hours while investigating his business. One agent (Dawes) is killed during a UN meeting at which Kananga and Solitaire are present, another (Hamilton) in New Orleans by the brass band and the last (Baines) is murdered by Dambala, a member of Kananga's voodoo cult on San Monique.
Being Spied on by Bond
MI6 assigns one of its best agents, James Bond, to investigate the tyrant and his connection with the murders. The agent 007 travels to New York, where Kananga is supposed to arrive later, at the San Monique embassy. However, the villain is warned about Bond's arrival and intentions by the medium Solitaire. To get rid of Bond, he sends his minion Whisper, who shoots Charlie, the driver of Bond's car while on the Rockfeller Expressway. Charlie, now dead from a poison dart, slumps over in his seat and his foot puts its full weight on the gas, causing the car to accelerate rapidly and possibly careen off the expressway. However, Bond grabs the wheel and pulls the emergency brake.
Kananga, who has left the UN and returned to the embassy, knows that he is being watched and that his office is most likely bugged. To deceive the CIA, he starts playing a pre-recorded tape in which he dictates a long, nationalistic letter. He and his associates (Solitaire, Tee Hee and Whisper) then change clothes and leave the embassy through a hidden exit in his office. Thinking that Kananga is still in his office, Felix Leiter calls his friend Bond and tells him to go after Whisper instead. Local police found that the car Whisper was driving when murdering Charlie was registered to the O. Cult Voodoo Shop. Following Whisper in a parking garage, Bond is disturbed by the arrival of Kananga and his henchmen, who enter a car and leave, pursued by Bond.
Bond follows the car in a cab, unaware that Kananga's spies inform their boss about Bond's every move. Arriving at Harlem, Bond sees Kananga's car before the Fillet of Soul restaurant and enters. The taxi driver, also a spy of Kananga, informs his boss that Bond is coming.
Meeting Bond as Mr. Big
- "(To Bond) Names is for tombstones, baby. (To henchmen) You take this honky out and waste him. Now!"
- ― Dr. Kananga as Mr. Big
In the restaurant, Bond is seated at a table at the wall. While waiting for his drink, Bond tries to bribe the waiter for information but the wall and the table spin, bringing Bond into a secret room. There, three armed henchmen await him, telling him that Mr. Big will "take care" of him soon. Bond briefly talks to Solitaire, before Tee Hee arrives and asks the medium whether Bond is armed. Solitaire looks into the cards and confirms this, and Tee Hee disarms Bond with the metal claw he has as his right hand; he uses his artificial appendage to flatten the barrel of Bond's gun.
007 is then brought before their leader. Mr. Big asks Solitaire whether Bond is the one who tailed them from uptown. Bond tries to introduce himself but Big only looks at him briefly and then tells his men to bring Bond outside and kill him. He then leaves the room.
Two of Kananga's henchmen then bring Bond in an abandoned sidealley, where the British agent quickly takes them out. Another black man then arrives, holding his gun at Bond, but the man turns out to be a CIA agent named Harold Strutter. Both men, together with Felix Leiter (who is communicating via a radio in Strutter's car), then wonder how Kananga and Mr. Big fit together. Telling the agents that Kananga is about to leave the USA and return to San Monique, Leiter sends Bond after him.
Setting another trap
- "This growing size of importance begin to disturb me, Solitaire. Even as they did with your mother before you. She had the power and lost it, became useless to me. You will not make the same mistake, Solitaire. Where is Bond now?"
- ― Dr. Kananga
Eventually confronting Rosie, Bond reveals that he knows she works for Kananga. Holding her at gunpoint, he tries to force her to give up information. However, when Rosie sees a voodoo totem, she is deeply afraid although Bond believes it to be an act. Rather risking Bond than Kananga, Rosie tries to run off. However, she is shot by a gun hidden inside the mouth of one of the totems on Kananga's orders. After Rosie's death, Kananga travels to Solitaire's palace to find out what went wrong. Telling her that the trap was set and that she saw death, he asks her how Bond could survive. Solitaire tells him that the death she saw must have been Rosie's and that she cannot be held responsible for Kananga's misinterpretations if he fails to ask specific questions. Kananga tells her that her growing impertinence disturbs him. He reminds her what happened to her mother when she lost her power and became useless. He then asks where Bond is now, but Solitaire can't answer him. She tells him that she cannot see when he treats her like that, as thing become unclear. He confines her to her chambers, telling her that she made him angry and he does not want to be. After Solitaire is gone, he talks to Tee Hee.
At the night, Bond infiltrates Solitaire's palace and seduces her. By sleeping with her, she loses her power and becomes useless for Kananga.
When Solitaire is about to bring Bond to Kananga's heroin field, which is protected by large camouflage nets, Kananga is warned. He tells his men to kill Bond if he finds the field, but Bond is able to escape all pursuers. Now aware that Kananga is smuggling heroin, Bond travells to New Orleans because Hamilton was killed there. However, while in a taxi, they are kidnapped by the driver, who is the same one as in New York. He brings them to an airfield, telling them that Mr. Big wants to see him because he stole something from a friend of Big. However, Bond is able to defeat Kananga's men and returns to Felix Leiter. Solitaire, however, is left behind, and returns to possession of Kananga.
In New Orleans, Leiter and Bond enter the Fillet of Souls, unaware that Strutter (they were supposed to meet there) had been killed by the same assassin that killed Hamilton. Remembering his last adventure in the Harlem restaurant of the Fillet of Soul chain, Bond decides against a table at the wall, instead choosing one in the middle of the room, right up at the front of the stage. Felix is then called away by the restaurant's maître d′, under the pretext of a phone call from Strutter, and Bond, along with the table and chairs, is lowered into the ground, having once again become a victim of Kananga's trap doors.
Revealing his plan
- "Quite revealing. Kananga, poppy growing thousands of acres of well camouflaged fields, protected by the voodoo threat of Baron Samedi. And as Mr. Big, distributor and whole-saler through a chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants."
- ― Bond sums up Kananga's plan.
However, Big rips his own face off, revealing that it was only a latex mask, and that he himself is Kananga. This causes Bond to seemingly finally realise Kananga's plan: Kananga grows heroin on San Monique and sells it as Mr. Big, thereby making the full profit. However, Kananga laughs, telling him that he wouldn't sell heroin for money. Bond remarks sarcastically that Kananga surely would just give it away, but Kananga confirms that this is exactly what he is intending: by distributing two tons of free heroin, he plans to drive every drug-dealing competitor in the United States out of business, and likely doubling, if not trebling or more, the amount of addicts. By driving up the price of the heroin after securing this monopoly, he intends to make a fortune.
After having revealed his plan, he comes back to his initial question, whether Bond slept with Solitaire. When Bond refuses to answer out of gentlemanliness, Kananga intends to find out another way. He has Tee Hee take off Bond's watch, which Tee Hee then brings to Kananga. Bond thinks to himself how Kananga could have found out about the watch's abilities from Q Branch. Kananga then tells Tee Hee to snip off the little finger on Bond's right hand on Solitaire's first wrong answer, proceeding to "more vital organs" with every subsequent wrong answer. However, Kananga has no knowledge that this watch was invented by Q, simply seeing it as an ordinary man's wristwatch. He then reads a registration number off the back of Bond's watch and asks Solitaire whether he spoke the truth. Solitaire, only able to guess, tells Kananga that he spoke the truth, and Kananga tells Tee Hee to let Bond go, letting him out of the restraint chair, even giving him back his watch. However, as soon as Bond puts his watch back on, Tee Hee knocks him out with his metal arm. Whisper, on cue, arrives in the room and is told by Kananga to take Bond to "the farm".
After Whisper and Bond are gone, Samedi, wearing more modern-styled clothes, enters the room. Solitaire then asks Kananga when they will go back to San Monique. Kananga tells her that they will go back soon, but then asks Solitaire why she betrayed him, revealing that the number he read was wrong, and he even gave her a fifty-fifty chance. He wants to know why she betrayed him although he gave her everything and she lacked for nothing. She tells him that the cards foresaw it. He angrily smacks her to the ground, telling her that in proper time he would have given her love and that she knew that. He says that there is only one appropriate way to deal with this betrayal, to which Samedi draws the tarot card 'Death'. Building on this, he says there is one proper time for administering this; on cue, Samedi draws the card marked 'Midnight'
He later intends for Solitaire to be executed by Baron Samedi in voodoo fashion on San Monique, mirroring the fate that befell Baines. Solitaire is tied to two posts by her wrists, and Dambala picks a snake from a coffin filled with snakes with which to kill her. The ceremony atendees summon Baron Samedi from one of the graves in the cemetery, and he gives the order for Dambala to move in for the kill. However, Bond, who has infiltrated the island with the aid of Quarrel Jr. after seeing the half-burnt tarot cards spelling Solitaire's fate, kills Dambala and another man who tries to attack him, seemingly kills Samedi and saves Solitaire, after blowing up the heroin fields.
Capturing Bond again and Death
- "Drown, Mr. Bond? I doubt you got the chance to drown..."
- ― Kananga reveals his intention to feed Bond and Solitaire to sharks.
Kananga laughs and aims the gun at the sofa Whisper is sitting on, causing the covering on the main body to inflate and eventually explode. Kananga is highly amused, calling the weapon ingenious. He then takes one of the gas pallets, but Bond warns him to not meddle with it, as the air inside is already "foul enough". Kananga replies that he never thought Bond would be a a bad loser, stating that he expected that Bond would drink with him on the success on his operation. The agent and the traitor are then tied up and attached to a winch normally used to carry the heroin onto a monorail that takes it to the coast for shipment. Bond, expecting that the winch will be lowered into the water beneath, states that surely there must be a more efficient way of drowning someone. Kananga says that they will hardly have the chance to drown. He then cuts Bond on the arm three times, just enough to draw blood. Whisper then starts lowering the winch into the water and opens a underwater gate, through which sharks enter. With the electromagnetic field in his watch, Bond obtains the gas pellet Kananga played with before. Bond also uses his watch to free himself from the ropes. Jumping down onto the ground, he runs towards Kananga. Whisper tries to warn his master, but due to his whispering voice, Kananga cannot hear him. Bond drops Whisper into one of the air tight metal capsules used to keep the heroin dry, locks him inside, and engages Kananga. During their fight, both men fall into the water. Underwater, Bond forces Kananga to swallow the gas pallet after pulling the pin out, causing Kananga to inflate enormously and rapidly rise to the cave's ceiling before exploding killing him, in which Bond would quip that Kananga "always did have an inflated opinion of himself".
Multiplayer game appearances
Dr. Kananga and Baron Samedi appear in 2012 in the video game 007 Legends as two of the multiplayer characters.
Behind the scenes
At thirty-three, the actor Yaphet Kotto, who portrayed Kananga, is the youngest actor to play a main antagonist in a Bond film.
According to Yaphet Kotto, he was not allowed to make any press for the film, nor was he allowed to attend the premiere. Kotto says that the producers told him they were afraid that the reaction of the public to the villain was black. Years later, when the blaxploitation fad had fizzled, Kotto joked that he was one of the few actors to be able to brush off Bond's trademark introduction of "Bond, James Bond" with his remark as Mr. Big "Names is for tombstones, baby!"
According to Roger Moore, who played James Bond, Yaphet Kotto was difficult to work with, but Kotto denies this. Kotto maintains that though he may have been quiet, he was courteous to everyone on the film.
- Although not used in the film adaptation of Live and Let Die, Mr. Big's scheme from the books is reused in the 1989 film Licence to Kill. Instead of smuggling gold coins, however, Franz Sanchez, the main antagonist in this film, smuggles drugs. Other parts of the novel Live and Let Die are also used in Licence to Kill including the warehouse scene and Bond killing The Robber for feeding Felix Leiter to a shark. One main difference is that Sanchez is not as megalomaniacal as Kananga, as Sanchez lacks confidence he can drive rival drug lords out of business, rather he seeks more ingenuitive ways to smuggle drugs into North America and minimizing loss. A similarity to Kananga is flouting of diplomatic immunity; in Sanchez's case, this is done through his intimidation and graft over the leadership of the tiny country of Isthmus.