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Tai-Pan More at IMDbPro »

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23 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

It could have been so much more...

Author: Thomas S. Finkelmeier Jr. ( from Wapakoneta, OH
16 April 2000

As another reviewer put it, this movie was very similar to Dune. Very interesting comparison, since Raffaella De Laurentiis produced them both. This was her first project right after Dune. Both were sweeping epic sagas with multiple intertwined plotlines. Both should have been six or eight hour mini series and not feature films. As with Dune, you will find that if you have not read the book, you will not understand the movie. However, if you have read the book, then the movie isn't all that bad. James Clavell's 'Asian Saga' is one of my favorite book series, so I bought this movie cheap just to see it. The characters are like old friends to me, so I didn't think that the movie was all that bad. I realized while watching it though, that someone who had not read the book would not be able to keep up with all of the plot points. My suggestion to you is to read the book, then watch the movie. You will discover two things; first it's a super good book. Second, this movie had everything going for it in cast and settings; it just had too much story to tell in too short a time. It definitely should have been a six-hour miniseries.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Not bad!

Author: rbischoff from St. Louis, MO
5 September 2005

I found this movie to follow the novel pretty closely, considering of course that the novel is about 900 pages and the movie is only two hours! While not of the same outstanding caliber of adaptation as the Shogun miniseries, it nevertheless manages to generate some excitement and give a flavor for the happenings of that period, during which the colony of Hong Kong was founded.

Joan Chen was especially good as Mai-Mai, and all the other parts were at least adequately cast. The locations, sets and production values were of uniformly good quality. The only thing lacking was enough time to tell a story this long and complex--in such a short production one only has time to hit the high points of the plot. But it was enjoyable nevertheless.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Might have been better received if called "Selected Scenes from Tai-Pan"

Author: jainafel from Singapore
7 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At first I was sceptical - I've read and loved Tai-Pan, for one - but soon I was sucked in by the story and couldn't stop watching till I'd finished the show.

Admittedly, it's much less of a movie than Tai-Pan is of a book. But the book is a giant among books, and the show is still a good show. Those who have read the book, rather than savaging it for its divergence from the book (which, in any case, would require a mini-series to do its layering and complexity justice, not a 2-hour show) should treat it as a kind of visual accompaniment to the story - good casting, good handling of some powerful scenes. Alright, they were much more powerful in the book, but it's not all the time that readers of a splendid book get the opportunity to see a capable visual incarnation that does justice to the characters, at least, if not to the plot. Maybe if the show had been titled "Selected Scenes from Tai-Pan" rather than "Tai-Pan" it would have been better received by purists. As "Selected Scenes" it's really very good. As "Tai-Pan", maybe not so good - for some of the most vivid scenes from the book are never realised in the show - like the marvellous dim sum negotiations and the whole subplot about the malaria.

What I'm trying to say is it did treat the subject material well, although obviously it couldn't pack everything which makes us love the book into just two hours. In an adaptation of a book, when you can recognise each character instantly before the character's name is mentioned it's always a good sign - where there's good casting, it's a sign that it's a sensitive adaptation, and this was the case with Tai-Pan. I thought Bryan Brown was very good as Dirk Struan; I'm not Scottish, so I couldn't tell that his accent was as fake as many others seem to think it. Tyler and Gorth Brock (and Quance, Culum, Mary, etc) were exactly as I'd imagined them, and Joan Chen was not half bad as May-may.

I was genuinely moved by some scenes which proved Leonard Maltin's comment about 'sledgehammer subtlety' wrong. **MILD SPOILER HERE** And though I had my reservations initially about how they were going to pull off the episode where May-may makes the mistake of dressing incongrously in European fashion and all that follows, I thought it was handled very well.

I can see how those who haven't read the book would find it laughable, though, because due to the compression of the plot you don't really get to know the characters and understand their motivations from scratch. Some of Clavell's magnificent dialogue from the book might sound weird in the show, or lacking in punch, for those without a prior acquaintance of the book, because of this lack of emotional set-up. That's why I think it's best for those who have read the book, who already know the characters and can watch them fully-fledged, so to speak, as the show doesn't spend time introducing the audience to the characters.

Perhaps the reason that fans of James Clavell's books are so vociferous in their criticism of this show, sometimes, is because they are acclimatised to splendid, detailed and heartfelt adaptations of so many of his other books - the Shogun mini-series, the Noble House mini-series and the King Rat film. Why, Clavell fans are really so fortunate already when it comes to screen adaptations! :) If we lowered our expectations a little, we'd see that Tai-Pan, too, is not that bad a treatment of the book at all!

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

The Founding Of Hong Kong

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
3 May 2008

Tai-Pan was probably too ambitious an undertaking for a film as short as just over 2 hours. Maybe a mini-series would have been the answer, but Tai-Pan certainly had the potential to be an oriental Gone With The Wind.

Unrealized potential though it is. The screenplay made many references to previous events in the novel that are not shown here. We do know there's one nasty rivalry going on between Bryan Brown and John Stanton who both rose to wealth in the China trade like the protagonists in an Edna Ferber novel.

Bryan Brown is the Far East version of Rhett Butler. He's built the family fortune on legal trade and illegal trade in opium. Not that opium was unknown before the British and other European powers got there, but they did turn it into a thriving business. When the Chinese government objected, the European powers took nibbles out of a prostrate and weakened state.

One of those nibbles the British took was Hong Kong, spoils from the Opium War of 1841. Brown like Margaret Mitchell's Rhett Butler or the hero of many Edna Ferber books is the guy who builds what became one of the busiest trading centers on the globe.

Unlike his rival Stanton, Brown's wife left him and took their small son back to the United Kingdom. Brown didn't mourn he took up with some Chinese women, they were pawns in various business negotiations. He got a son, Russell Wong, from one of them.

Things get interesting when his other son arrives from Great Britain played by Tim Guinee. He's a rather uptight Victorian youth who is not pleased with the debauchery he finds and his father's part in it.

Tai-Pan is exquisitely photographed with the climatic typhoon scene very well done indeed. A better screenplay would have been needed to tell this epic story.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

If you love exotic melodramas, this one's for you!

Author: Libretio
19 February 2005


Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (J-D-C Scope)

Sound format: Dolby Stereo

1840's China: Thrown off the mainland because of his opium dealings, a western merchant (Bryan Brown) sets up home on the island of Hong Kong where he faces conflict from friend and foe alike in the lead-up to colonization.

Hugely derided at the time of its release, this handsome production - based on the novel by James Clavell, and directed by TV specialist Daryl Duke (THE THORN BIRDS) - plays to the gallery at every turn, embracing the book's labyrinthine plot and outrageous melodrama with unashamed fervour, an approach which appears to have sealed its fate at the box-office. The movie opens a little too abruptly, indicating a troubled post-production, but John Briley's busy screenplay (co-written with Stanley Mann) unfolds against a colorful historical backdrop and includes just enough nudity and violence to keep boredom at bay. Brown's performance is compromised by an unconvincing Scottish accent, and he's upstaged by Joan Chen (THE LAST EMPEROR) as the Chinese girl who loves him regardless of his failings, while handsome Tim Guinee (HOW TO MAKE AN American QUILT) is achingly sincere as Brown's naive young son, led astray by villainous merchants plotting his family's downfall. Also starring John Stanton, Russell Wong, Norman Rodway, Kyra Sedgwick and Bert Remsen in supporting roles. Production values strive to capture an epic feel and are largely successful, though no one's ever going to mistake this for "Lawrence of Hong Kong"! Italian makeup maestro Giannetto de Rossi (a regular contributor to the films of Lucio Fulci) provides some occasional flashes of gore, including a brief - but realistic - decapitation near the beginning of the picture.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A crushing disappointment

Author: Leofwine_draca from United Kingdom
22 February 2014

It's worth pointing out that I came to this film having read James Clavell's excellent novel, TAI-PAN, on which this is based. If I hadn't read the book beforehand, I probably would have enjoyed this adaptation a lot more.

Sadly, I was left feeling that the filmed TAI-PAN is a crushing disappointment, purely because it cuts so very much out of the story. The whole background is missing, the Triad stuff, the politics, the trade with the Chinese. The story is reduced to the human relationships and particularly the family rivalries between the main characters, but there was so much more to it than that.

I do understand that films are very different to books and that adaptations have to cut material out, but TAI-PAN has a two hour running time and a lot of it is slow-paced. If it had told events at a much faster pace, it would have been able to include a lot more of the details and subtleties that are missing here. As it is, there are elements of greatness - plus the novelty of seeing Bryan Brown in a leading role - but it could have been so much more. A miniseries would suffice better, I think.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

not really all that bad...

Author: eurasianprincess
18 February 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Okay, so it was very late, and I was very tired, but I did find this entertaining, and in the end, that's all I was looking for when I was channel surfing last night.

I admit that some of the accents were poor, but not any worse than Tom Cruise's 'Oirish' in Far and Away, and many other Hollywood attempts I can't be bothered to list at the moment. And though not Oscarworthy, this certainly wasn't the worst acting I've seen. I may have enjoyed it far more than it deserved, because I'm feeling really homesick for HK at the mo, and all the little things like the materials used for some of the men's waistcoats and even the skyline (wow, how much things have changed since they filmed that!) made me smile. What also made me smile was the way *SPOILER*Dirk always seemed to get wounded in the same'd think after a few fights he'd be all 'What are you doing with that gun? Watch my arm. Watch my arm. Oh, not again!' */SPOILER*

I have to confess, I didn't catch all of it - only about an hour and a half - from about 5mins before *SPOILER* the fight on the boat*/SPOILER* to the end, but what I did see kept me up and wanting to see more until the end, and isn't that what filmmakers want us to do?

Not the best film I've ever seen, but certainly not the worst.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Too much in too short a time

25 July 2005

I agree with other comments that this should have been a miniseries but on HBO not commercial TV. The scenes with the various women would have been destroyed with censorship. I believe that it did give an accurate "feel" to the times and events depicted.

Upon viewing this I immediately ordered the book ( I had ignored it due to some disappointment at Nobel House ). Also bit the bullet and ordered Shogun the miniseries. Mr. Clavell's work s are to be appreciated even in movies that fall short. I do wish Bryan Brown had a better accent but Joan Chen mimicked it perfectly.

The supporting cast both western and oriental were excellent. Also the "few" ships used were great. Now I want Noble House on DVD.

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10 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Should have been made as a mini series.

Author: yenlo from Auburn, Me
23 June 1999

Adventure film based on James Clavell's novel about a 19th-century trade baron who makes his headquarters in Hong Kong. This is the 3rd worst motion picture I've ever seen in a theater (behind Rebel and Dune.) It seemed that the original intention was to have made this as a TV mini series and not for theatrical release. One point in the film Bryan Browns character Dirk Struan tells another male character "When you make dung you'll wipe your arse with paper". The entire theater crowd erupted in laughter for about five minutes and it appeared that the line was not intended to be humorous. That's how bad this movie was.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

bad old style melodrama

Author: SnoopyStyle
24 January 2016

It's 1839 near Canton, China. Chinese officials come to the British settlement demanding for Tai-Pan (chinese word for supreme leader) to appear before the emperor's commissioner for importing opium. Dirk Struan (Bryan Brown) goes despite his companion May-May (Joan Chen)'s warning. The commissioner orders the opium burned without compensation and all foreigners leave Canton. The foreigners retreat back to Macau. Struan sets up his new Nobel House in Hong Kong and convinces Britain to claim the land.

The production looks more like a TV movie. The quality isn't there. The acting is pretty stiff. The story is even worst. This world is too complex to be simplified this way. It basically skims over such tricky issue such as the Opium War. The movie feels lifeless and overwrought.

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