Tai-Pan (film)

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Tai pan poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Daryl Duke
Produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis
Written by John Briley
James Clavell
Stanley Mann
Starring Bryan Brown
Joan Chen
Tim Guinee
Russell Wong
Kyra Sedgwick
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by Antony Gibbs
Distributed by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)
Release dates
  • November 7, 1986 (1986-11-07)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$25 million[1]
Box office $4,007,250

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.



There had been numerous attempts to film Tai Pan over the years. Patrick McGoohan was announced to play Dirk Struan in a version for MGM in 1968 which was postponed due to high costs, despite Carlo Ponti and Martin Ransohoff as producers and Michael Anderson attached to direct.[2][3]

In the late 1970s Georges-Alain Vuille obtained the rights and hired Richard Fleischer to direct. George MacDonald Fraser was hired to adapt the novel. (Previous versions had been written by Carl Foreman and James Clavell himself.) 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, then Vuille lost the rights. Fraser's script was not used in the final movie.[4]


The movie gained poor reviews.[5][6][7] Chen was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress and Worst New Star.

Box office[edit]

The movie was not a box office success.[8]


  1. ^ "Chinese red tape causes problems". Daily News of Los Angeles. 1986-01-17. Retrieved 2010-06-13. (registration required (help)). 
  2. ^ 'Tai-Pan' Filming Postponed Over Costs The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 23 July 1968: B6.
  3. ^ MGM Seeking Oriental for Lead in 'Tai Pan' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 Aug 1969: d16.
  4. ^ George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p198-212
  5. ^ "Tai Pan (1986)". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  6. ^ "Tai-Pan :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  7. ^ "Movie Reviews : Ah! Love Affairs With Foreign-Flavored Accents : 'Tai-Pan' - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. 1992-07-12. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  8. ^ DAVID T. FRIENDLY (1986-11-13). "Reagans on 'Soul Man': Thumbs Up - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 

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