19 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing adaptations of a unique series of detective stories.
Decius from United Kingdom
12 February 2003
"Judge Dee" was Granada's attempt to adapt the stories of Robert H. Van
Gulik for television. These stories have been described by Julian
Symons in his history of the crime novel ("Bloody Murder") as "simply
curiosities" but this greatly underplays their charm and interest, set
as they are in T'ang Dynasty China (but using the anachronistic
trappings of the Ming Dynasty some seven or eight hundred years later).
Gulik drew upon traditional Chinese detective stories and wove his
tales around a character who really existed: Ti Jen-chieh (or Di
Renjie). Judge Dee rose to high office in the empire, but in the early
part of his career he was a district magistrate, dispensing justice and
investigating crimes: it is at this period of his career that most of
Gulik's stories and this TV series are set.
The stories offered (and offer) great possibilities as a TV series:
typically, Dee and his four lieutenants -- Sergeant Hoong, Ma Joong,
Chiao Tai and Tao Gan -- are involved in the investigation of two or
three cases simultaneously, they range through all levels of the
Chinese society of the time from beggars and prostitutes to high
officials, and give a glimpse of life in a completely unfamiliar
society comparable only to the very best science fiction and fantasy.
And they also contain intriguing mysteries.
Unfortunately, Granada's changes to the stories made the series more
than a little disappointing. Instead of three cases at a time, Dee only
had one per episode. Instead of giving us the panoramic view of
Imperial Chinese society, there was an excessive concentration on Dee's
relationship with his wives. The four lieutenants became three, the
redoubtable Chiao Tai disappearing; unfortunately, this meant that Tao
Gan became more like him and rather lost the elements of sly cunning
which are so distinctive in the books. Worst of all, bouts of
"artistic" dance routines would stop the plot in its tracks and make
the episodes more tedious even than the lacklustre adaptation would
otherwise have been.
On the plus side, though, the costuming was superb even in black and
white (even more so in the occasional colour photograph of the
production, though these are very scarce today); and Michael Goodliffe
was quite excellent in the title role, portraying Dee as thoughtful,
decisive and magisterial.
Disappointing it may have been, an opportunity for a truly classic
series lost, perhaps -- but the series retained enough of the books'
interest to drive at least one person to find and read them.
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