Brian Joubert of France appeared to be headed for his second Grand Prix gold of the year on Friday, leading the Cup of Russia after the men's short program.
US skater Johnny Weir was less than two points behind in second place and Canada's Emanuel Sandhu was third.
It's the first time in the competition's decade-long history that the men's field wasn't dominated by Russians, who have won all the previous golds.
Ilya Klimkin was in fourth place, more than 10 points behind Joubert.
Joubert, who won the Trophee Bompard gold this year, channeled James Bond in the program set to the Die Another Day soundtrack, miming fisticuffs and holding a pistol. He wasn't quite as sure a shot as Bond, but his jumps were mostly on target -- his only big mistake a step out on a triple axel and he ended with 77.70 points.
"I was crisp," Joubert said, but admitted the mistake was "silly stuff."
"I'll just have to make it tomorrow," he said.
Weir, in a black-and-white chess-themed costume that was restrained by his standards, landed his jumps well, but unlike Joubert he didn't unleash a quad and generally seemed a bit slow.
"I didn't start training until August. I have been sick off and on since I have been home," said the three-time US champion.
Sandhu landed a quad-triple toe loop combination, but fell on his triple axel.
"I just caught an edge and fell," he said.
Sergei Dobrin, Russia's top chance of getting a male skater into the Grand Prix Final, placed a devastating ninth after errors on both ends of a quad-triple and then singling a triple axel.
Julia Sebestyen of Hungary took the lead after the women's short program.
Sebestyen, who won the Cup of China two weeks ago, received 54.36 points -- about seven points off her personal best. She under-rotated the triple lutz in her opening combination jump and put her hand down for balance, while her double axel was clean but slow.
"I am quite happy with my performance today. Competition by competition I am doing better," Sebestyen said.
Elena Sokolova of Russia was second with 52.08 points. She slightly outpointed Sebestyen on program elements but was 3.5 points behind on technique after changing a triple lutz-double toe combination into two toe loops.
Sokolova said she had actually planned a triple-triple but got too close to the boards and changed her mind.
"I would have put a hole in the boards," she said.
Sarah Meier of Switzerland was in third with 50.92 and Russian teenager Arina Martinova fourth at 49.46 with the short program's second-highest technical marks. Alissa Czisny, the only US skater, was in eighth place.
Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy led the pairs' short program with 63.96.
Savchenko put her hand down on a throw triple flip and the pair had mild synchronization problems on their spins.
Maria Petrova and Alexei Tik-honov, Russia's world bronze pair, were in second with 62.28 after Tik-honov stepped out badly on their triple toe loop.
Another Russian pair, Japan-born Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, were third with 59.46 after a program that included a tight and fast triple twist.
In ice dancing, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia took an early lead ahead of Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto.
The Russians scored 37.99 in the compulsory dance, nearly 1.5 points ahead of Belbin and Agosto with 36.56. Domnina and Shabalin beat the US skaters by a narrow margin last week at the Cup of China.