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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Daryl Duke|
|Produced by||Raffaella De Laurentiis|
|Written by||John Briley
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Distributed by||De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)|
|Box office||$2 million|
Tai-Pan is a 1986 film directed by Daryl Duke, loosely based on James Clavell's 1966 novel of the same name. While many of the same characters and plot twists are maintained, a few smaller occurrences are left out. Filmed under communist Chinese censorship, some portions of Clavell's story were considered too offensive to be filmed as written and considerable changes were made.
The De Laurentiis Entertainment Group handled the production and were actively seen battling the Chinese Government and Labor boards over the film during shooting. The results fared poorly at the box office and in critical reviews. Director Daryl Duke believed that a mini-series à la Shōgun or Noble House would have been a far superior means of covering the complexity of Clavell's novel.
The film begins following the British victory of the First Opium War and the seizure of Hong Kong. Although the island is largely uninhabited and the terrain unfriendly, it has a large port that both the British government and various trading companies believe will be useful for the import of merchandise to be traded on mainland China, a highly lucrative market.
Although the film features many characters, it is arguably Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock, former shipmates and the owners of two massive (fictional) trading companies who are the main focal points of the story. Their rocky and often abusive relationship as seamen initiated an intense amount of competitive tension.
Throughout, both men seek to destroy each other in matters of business and personal affairs. Struan is referred to as Tai-Pan (which author Clavell translates as "Supreme Leader," although this is not the accepted translation of the term) indicating his position as head of the largest and most profitable of all the trading companies operating in Asia. Brock, owner of the second largest of the trading companies, constantly vies to destroy Struan's company and reputation in an attempt to both exact revenge on Struan and become the new "Tai-Pan" of Chinese trade.
While the film follows a similar structure as the novel, one major and notable event is left out. Struan's meeting with Jin Qua early in the film to obtain the forty lac dollars of silver to pay Brock omits Jin Qua's stipulation that four special coins be broken in half, with Struan keeping four halves and the other four being distributed by Jin Qua. When a half coin is presented to Struan that matches his own half, he is obligated to do a favor to the bearer. The first favor is called in later in the novel, by the pirate Wu Kwok. The film does not convey this.
- Bryan Brown as Dirk Struan
- Joan Chen as May–May
- John Stanton as Tyler Brock
- Tim Guinee as Culum Struan
- Bill Leadbitter as Gorth Brock
- Russell Wong as Gordon Chen
- Katy Behean as Mary Sinclair
- Kyra Sedgwick as Tess Brock
- Janine Turner as Shevaun Tillman
- Norman Rodway as Aristotle Quance
- John Bennett as Orlov
- Derrick Branche as Vargas
- Vic Armstrong as Drunken sailor
- Dickey Beer as Brock's crew
- Cheng Chuang
- Chen Shu
- Rosemarie Dunham
- Robert Easton
- Richard Foo
- Nicholas Gecks
- Carol Gillies
- Pat Gorman as British merchant 2
- Michael C. Gwynne
- Billy Horrigan as Brock's crew
- Denise Kellogg as Nude model
- Patrick Ryecart
- Rob Spendlove
- Phil Chatterton (tongplaw) as Boatswain
- Frans Dames as officer and merchant
Earlier Proposed Versions
Patrick McGoohan was announced to play Dirk Struan in the film with Michael Anderson attached to direct. However the movie would have cost an estimated $26 million (later reduced to $20 million) and was postponed. It lingered on for a number of years before being finally cancelled by James T. Aubrey.
In the mid 70s it was announced Run Run Shaw had bought the rights off MGM and would collaborate with Universal Studios to make a $12 million film. Carl Foreman wrote a screenplay. However no film was made.
In the late 1970s Georges-Alain Vuille obtained the rights and George MacDonald Fraser was hired to adapt the novel. Fraser's script met with approval - Vuille hired him to write a sequel - Richard Fleischer was attached to direct, and Steve McQueen agreed to star for a reported fee of $10 million. However he later dropped out of the project.
Roger Moore became briefly attached, with John Guillermin mentioned as director of a possible mini series. However finance could not be arranged. "If it's offered to me again I'll do it," said Moore. "Quite frankly, it's one of the best scripts I've ever read." For a time Sean Connery was mooted as star.
Vuille eventually lost the rights and Fraser's script was not used in the final movie.
However the popularity of the novel and TV series of Shogun made Tai Pai continually attractive. In late 1983 it was announced Dino de Laurentiis had the rights. He set up the film with Orion.
The movie was not a box office success.
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