Tai-Pan (film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Daryl Duke
Produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis
Written by John Briley
James Clavell
Stanley Mann
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][2]
Box office $2 million[3]

Tai-Pan is a 1986 film directed by Daryl Duke, loosely based on James Clavell's 1966 eponymous novel. 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. 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.



Earlier Proposed Versions

There had been numerous attempts to film Tai Pan over the years. Martin Ransohoff and MGM bought the rights in 1966 for $500,000 with Clavell writing the script.[4]

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[5]) and was postponed.[6][7] It lingered on for a number of years before being finally cancelled by James T. Aubrey.[8]

In the mid 70s it was announced Run Run Shaw had bought the rights from MGM and would collaborate with Universal Studios to make a $12 million film. Carl Foreman wrote a screenplay.[9][10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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."[13] For a time Sean Connery was mooted as star.[14]

Vuille eventually lost the rights and Fraser's script was not used in the final movie.[12]

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.[15] He set up the film with Orion.[16]

The movie was directed by Daryl Duke and starred Bryan Brown, who had worked together on The Thorn Birds.

It was the first English language movie shot in China. Shooting was extremely difficult, due in part to abundant red tape.[2] De Laurentis later claimed filming in China was a big mistake.[17]


The movie gained poor reviews.[18][19][20] Chen was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress and Worst New Star.

Box office

The movie was not a box office success.[21]


  1. "Chinese red tape causes problems". Daily News of Los Angeles. 1986-01-17. Retrieved 2010-06-13. (registration required (help)).
  2. 1 2 Keel news... Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Jan 9, 1986; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune pg. 24
  3. '86 a Strong Year for Film Industry By ALJEAN HARMETZSpecial to The New York Times New York Times (1923-Current file); Jan 17, 1987; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 11
  4. Kate DuPont Set for 'Debut' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 July 1966: c11.
  5. MGM Won't Drop Plans for 'Tai-Pan' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 July 1968: g15.
  6. 'Tai-Pan' Filming Postponed Over Costs The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 23 July 1968: B6.
  7. MGM Seeking Oriental for Lead in 'Tai Pan' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 Aug 1969: d16.
  8. New King of MGM's Jungle Cracking Whip: New King of the MGM Jungle New King of the MGM Jungle Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 Feb 1970: q1.
  9. Clavell rides 'Shogun' to film Lochte, Dick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 10 Oct 1976: t2.
  10. The Golden Claw of Run Run Shaw: CALENDAR The Golden Claw of Run Run Shaw Run Run Shaw Birns, Jack. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Jan 1978: j1.
  11. At the Movies: Costs of making 'Superman' go up, up and away. Buckley, Tom. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 May 1978: C6.
  12. 1 2 George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p198-212
  13. BACK-TO-BACK SPYING IN ROGER MOORE FILMS Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 Apr 1981: g1.
  14. CLAVELL: CHEERS FOR CHAMBERLAIN'S CRAFT: CHAMBERLAIN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 12, 1980; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. G1
  15. 'Shogun' author strikes again, with help from De Laurentiis Ryan, Desmond Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Dec 8, 1983; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune pg. E15
  16. DE LAURENTIIS' EPIC PLAN FOR EMBASSY: FILM CLIPS FILM CLIPS Mathews, Jack Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 9, 1985; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. H1
  17. Tai-pan' Contrasts Old China and New: 'Tai-pan' Contrasts Old China and New By JOHN F. BURNSZHUHAI, China New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 27, 1986; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. H17
  18. Goodman, Walter (1986-11-07). "Tai Pan (1986)". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  19. "Tai-Pan :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. 1986-11-07. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  20. Thomas, Kevin (1992-07-12). "Movie Reviews : Ah! Love Affairs With Foreign-Flavored Accents : 'Tai-Pan' - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  21. 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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