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Tai-Pan (1986)

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Tai-Pan is Chinese for "supreme leader". This is the man with real power to his hands. And such a Tai-Pan is Dirk Struan who is obsessed by his plan to make Hong Kong the "jewel in the ... See full summary »



(screenplay), (novel), 1 more credit »
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Title: Tai-Pan (1986)

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Credited cast:
Dirk Struan
John Stanton ...
Tyler Brock
Bill Leadbitter ...
Gorth Brock
Gordon Chen
Katy Behean ...
Mary Sinclair
Tess Brock
Shevaun Tillman
Norman Rodway ...
Aristotle Quance
John Bennett ...
Derrick Branche ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Vic Armstrong ...
Drunken Sailor
Brecks's Crew
Phil Chatterton Tongplaw ...


Tai-Pan is Chinese for "supreme leader". This is the man with real power to his hands. And such a Tai-Pan is Dirk Struan who is obsessed by his plan to make Hong Kong the "jewel in the crown of her British Majesty". In 1841 he achieves his goal but he has many enemies who try to destroy his plans. Will they succeed? Written by Harald Mayr <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


There can only be one. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

7 November 1986 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

James Clavell's Tai-Pan  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$25,000,000 (estimated)


$4,007,250 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film was originally announced by MGM in 1967-8 and was to be directed by Michael Anderson, but after severe operating losses the film was one of a number of expensive projects the new management at the studio dropped as too costly. In the 70s Steve McQueen agreed to play the lead for a then-record $10m and was paid an advance of $1m. When the producers were unable to pay the second installment on time, he dropped out, keeping the $1m he had already been paid. In 1980 Roger Moore agreed to play the lead, even going as far as to start to grow a beard for the part before that version fell through as well. See more »


In a scene, set in 1841, several of the ladies were wearing bright mauve outfits. That would have been most unlikely for the wives of middle class traders at that time as the color purple was prohibitively expensive before the invention of analine dyes in London - in 1856. By 1870 these gaudy colors had become so cheap and commonplace that it became a status symbol to mimic the subtler, paler colors of the pre analine dye days. See more »


Referenced in Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) See more »


Music by Adrien Talexy
Arranged by Trevor L. Sharpe
See more »

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User Reviews

Great score, shame about the film
25 August 2011 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Some films take so long to get made that by the time they finally reach the screen, the audience has completely lost interest or, in the case of Tai-Pan, quite possibly died of old age. MGM and director Michael Anderson had originally intended to bring James Clavell's epic saga to the screen in 1969 before their operating losses and a massive downturn in movie-going that hit the whole industry hard led to the picture being postponed indefinitely. In the late 70s Steve McQueen signed up for the lead for a record $10m salary but when the producers were unable to come up with a second payment walked away with the $1m advance they'd paid him. In 1980 Roger Moore was lined up to replace him and even started growing a beard for the part only for that proposed version to sink without trace until, in the wake of Shogun's success, Dino De Laurentiis finally came up with a script that would satisfy the Chinese authorities (but no-one else) and made it with an almost heroically miscast Bryan Brown and Joan Chen in 1986. He shouldn't have bothered: it's awful. Not just ordinary awful but really irredeemably bloody awful, a real pig's ear of a picture that could and should have been much better, especially for an epic saga about the founding of Hong Kong and the trading dynasty that Clavell would return to in Noble House that's just crying out for the kind of unashamedly old fashioned epic screen treatment that the film's much more impressive poster seemed to promise. It's no surprise this unseaworthy vessel was such a massive flop (limping to only $4m on a $25m budget in the US) that it went straight to video in most countries and barely shifted any copies there either.

The constant censorship changes the Chinese government insisted on to allow filming (it was the first US picture to shoot there) and the nightmarish amount of red tape during the shoot didn't help, nor did heavy prerelease cutting (De Laurentiis also prepared a longer TV miniseries version that never seems to have seen the light of day), but John Briley and Stanley Mann's script is such a dreary and truncated mess that makes so little sense to anyone who hasn't read the novel that it's no great surprise that veteran TV director Daryl Duke couldn't inject any life into it. There's no excuse for the truly awful performances, though, with both Bryan Brown and Joan Chen sporting atrocious Groundskeeper Willie Scottish accents that make it impossible to keep a straight face when our hero utters lines like "Tha Emparah ov Chynner haze Neva scene tha guns ov a Britisshhh man o'wurr!" or "When yew meek dung ye'll weep year arse wiv paypah" while her romantic scenes, delivered in the pidgin-Scottish learned from her lover, become pure comedy. Even the Russian ambassador's accent hails not from Georgia, Russia, but Georgia, USA for some bizarre reason, making you wonder if the whole thing is a failed send up.

The first quarter of an hour or so isn't too bad, but it doesn't take long for the colony of Hong Kong to be established and from then on it's just tiresome business rivalry between Brown and John Stanton's hammy melodrama villain with the usual romantic complications as their children fall in love, none of which plays remotely convincingly or above the level of a cheap daytime soap opera. Even the climax during a typhoon that sees the two antagonists finally having their much-delayed fight to the death doesn't liven things up so flatly are the proceedings staged: you just get the feeling that everyone just wants to get through it all as quickly as they can so they can go home and forget about it, which at least puts them on the same plain as the audience.

Amazingly even the great Jack Cardiff's scope photography doesn't add much colour or grandeur to proceedings after the opening sequences in China, with much of the film looking like a flat TV show that someone accidentally shot in widescreen, so Maurice Jarre's superb score is doubly welcome. It's something of a tradition that really bad films often have exceptionally good scores, and this is no exception, with Jarre seemingly scoring a much grander and more spectacular film that exists only in his head, even coming up with a gorgeous, unashamedly romantic and sweeping love theme that's one of the finest things he ever wrote. If only the film were worthy of it…

3 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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