Tai-Pan is a historical epic [from James Clavell’s novel] lost somewhere between 19th-century Hong Kong and 20th-century Hollywood. Despite flashes of brilliance and color, Tai-Pan fails to evoke a mysterious and moving world as a back-drop to its romantic drama. Director Daryl Duke and his team have made an attractive shell but failed to put in any heart.
As the Tai-Pan, or trade leader of the European community, first in Canton and then later in Hong Kong, Aussie thesp Bryan Brown looks the part well enough, but lacks charisma.
Within the exotic setting the story is actually rather conventional. Brown is opposed by arch villains Brock (John Stanton) and his son Gorth (Bill Leadbitter) for the control of the trading rights. At the same time there is considerable politicking going on with the Chinese over the opium trade and the British over trade regulations.
Film presents a good deal of romancing, between Brown and his lovely Chinese concubine May-May (Joan Chen) and several other women who seem to have a bottomless supply of revealing costumes.