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Tai-Pan is a 1986 American-Chinese historical romance drama film about the opium trade in the First Opium War of the nineteenth century and the founding of Hong Kong and Macau in China by British merchants calling themselves "Tai-Pans"; the Chinese word for traders, with the subplots of Captain Dirk Struan in rivalry with Captain Tyler Brock and his son Gorth, his romance with mistress May-May and conflict of values with naive and stubbornly pious son Culum.

Directed Daryl Duke, screenplay adapted by John Briley and Stanley Mann based on the 1966 novel written by James Clavell.
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  • China was an unknown, forbidden land. For four centuries, her shores had not been touched by the West. But in the early days of the great sailing ships. Western merchants, drawn by the wonders of tea and silk and jade teased at her coastline with the twin seductions of bribery and opium. In the south of China's vastness on the edge of the inland city of Canton they boldly established a trading center and defied the emperor to act.


[Dirk has arrived at the residence of Emperor after witnessing the execution of a merchant guilty of the crime of trading with foreigners]
Merchant: [Pleading before Emperor] Spare me, Commissioner Lin, spare me. I did nothing against the Emperor. You allowed me to trade with foreigners. Don't punish me for that. Spare my life.
Lin: Kill him! [Tosses red stick in his direction who is taken away and two guards bring forth Jin to his knees but Dirk still stands]
Jin: Lin, the imperial High Commissioner... of the Court of Heaven... issues these commands. The barbarians are to deliver... every particle of opium... in their possession or submit like pirates... to the extreme penalty of the law.
Dirk: If the imperial Court will allow me--
Jin: Do not speak!
[Dirk realises the sacredness of being in the presence of the Commissioner and kneels down]
Dirk: Most honorable Lin... emissary of the Celestial Court... China has many riches. If we were allowed to trade freely through all the reaches of China, we--
Jin: When the emperor of the Celestial Kingdom... wants trade with barbarian warrior, he will make laws... not foreign devils who sell opium.
Dirk: If opium be surrendered, there would need to be compensation. And then there's the danger the opium will fall into the wrong hands.
Jin: There will be no compensation. The opium will be burned.
Dirk: Burned? We're talking about thousands of pounds of opium. Oh, quake and tremble at the imperial orders.
Jin: Do not resist.
Dirk: [Dirk lays out five silver taels in a row] The humble merchants of the West know the imperial Court... has many expenses to bear.
Jin: Tai-Pan, the opium will be destroyed. You and all the merchants must leave Canton. That's good. Over here.
Lin: How dare you! You try to corrupt the Imperial Commissioner?! You deserve to die! The next time you dare to try to sell opium or bribe officials, you will be executed and your head hung in a basket for all to see. Take him away.

Manuel: What's going on? Mr. Brock. Mr. Brock, what has happened?
Dirk: The China trade be done. They burned the opium. Heave away, lads. Manuel, there's something I want to show you. We're changing course.
Orlov: East nor'east. East nor'east, sir.
Dirk: I'm going to show you destiny's gift to taipan. The island of Hong Kong. A sailor's dream, Vargas. Deep water. Safe. And now she's going to be England's.
Manuel: England's?
Dirk: Yes, Manuel. I'm going back to England. And I'm going to use every penny I have to convince Parliament that the country cannot allow her merchants to be humiliated by a medieval monarch. And we're going to demand a piece of China for England-- this piece of China.

[Nagrek hears the crew boarding]
Crew: Mr. Brock, sir. We'll take her into the Pearl to unload on the noon tide.
Tyler: Alert the crew. We lift anchor at dawn.
Nagrek: [Promptly leaving has him caught shutting the door] Sir, welcome aboard. I was just looking to see if Miss Tess was all right. I was but checking, sir. [He attempts to walk past Tyler only to be thwarted]
Tyler: Go below. I don't want to be discussing this around the crew. [He walks into Tess' quarters sternly observing her looking very violated and guilty]
Nagrek: Mr. Brock, I didn't touch her. I didn't harm her, by God.
Tyler: You're a dead man, Nagrek.
Nagrek: I did nothing, sir. I swear. I were only checking--
Tyler: [Chops Chinese sword against a beam] You put your stinkin' hands under her shift. [Nagrek attempts to flee and is grabbed by Gorth slamming him against a beam, then draws a knife with wrist slapped by Tyler's sword]
Nagrek: No harm I done, I swear. It were only play. [Nagrek is then headbutted by Gorth, falling onto sacks]
Tyler: I just want him dead.
Gorth: He'll be dead. But he won't die a man. [Gorth gets on top of Nagrek, undoes Nagrek's pants and castrates him off camera]

May-may: Eat. They make you very potent. It is fantastical true. Prawns are very important for your figure.
Dirk: That may be. But do you have to eat the heads? Ahh. Dinnae ken? They're the best part. That'll teach ya. I think... they are beginning... to work. By God... I've given you too much already.
May-may: More. Just one more. I want you to be fantastical good. That lump of dog meat Brock is breaking you by huge monies owed. Is it true?
Dirk: Who told you? It is terrifical simple to solve this business.
May-may: No sell May-may. Kill Brock. It is time now.
Dirk: That's one way. I've thought of it.
May-may: One way, another way-- you think of a way.
Dirk: Will I?
May-may: Yes. After tonight, you remember for sure... you do not want to lose May-may.
Dirk: I've paid for you, and too much.
May-may: Ay-ya! You not the only man in China! When I was virgin, Jin Qua could have sold me easy to Manchu prince... even to the emperor for a thousand taels! I was Jin Qua's gift to you for China trade. I know... you're not stupid. You will beat Brock... because I please you too much. Now, come to me, Tai-Pan.
May-may: No. It gives me pleasure... and it is my duty. Your custom is man have only one wife, ay-ya?
Dirk: Aye.
May-may: Chinese custom more better. Many wives. How soon will you marry? What is the custom?
Dirk: Oh, i dunna think i'll marry again.
May-may: You should-- an English or Scottish. But, first, you should marry me. So for once, I be your supreme lady.
Dirk: Aye, perhaps I should.
May-may: Aye, perhaps you should.
Dirk: Come, lass. it is time.

[Brock brings Culum to meet his family at a beachfront party]
Culum: Good day, Miss Johnson. Beautiful day.
Tyler: That's enough, please. Thank you.
Tyler's wife: Ah!
Tyler: Mother, this be Culum Struan, once heir to Noble House.
Tyler's wife: Culum.
Culum: My pleasure, ma'am. I've never thought of myself as that.
Tyler: Still, it was true, lad. And if there be ought left when your father pays his bills... it'll be left to you. I hear you're a God-fearing lad. Though I'm no friend of your father, I'm pleased to meet you proper.
Culum: Oh, Tyler.
Tyler: Well. It's best the boy knows the truth. And whatever he holds against me for defeating his father... I expect the auction today to be done fair. It will be, I assure you. And this be my sister Tess.
Tyler's wife: Culum Struan.
Culum: It is my honor, miss.
Gorth: Mr. Struan. The Tai-Pan asked my father... to bring along the sight drafts he holds against Noble House. Has he decided not to bid?
Culum: I don't know. I know that he wants the knoll badly... but I hope he will not bid.
Dirk: Mary.
Mary: Tai-Pan.
Dirk: Is Quance painting your portrait?
Mary: No. Well, Dirk, champagne? Well, you always did have a style about you... even in defeat.
Dirk: I'm honored that you've come. Mrs. Brock. Tess. You too, Gorth. Now, Tyler, I wonder if you'd do me the courtesy... to let me see the sight drafts you say you hold against Noble House.
Tyler: I don't say.
Dirk: They're here for your own eyes. Check them against the ledger, Mr. Vargas. One million, two hundred thousand, Mr. Vargas. Make sure you add them right.
Tyler: Prawns are right tasty, Dirk. You can tell your cook he'll have a job with the new owner. I'll pass the message along. Now if you can free your hand, I'd like you to sign this receipt for me.
Dirk: What's that for?
Tyler: All correct, Mr. Struan. I've decided to pay in cash. I assume that's acceptable. Don't you pull one of your damn tricks on me.
Dirk: Captain Orlov, please. Haul away, lads. He's done it! It's all been weighed. But there's a scale if you wish to check the amount.
Tyler: God rot you to hell, Struan. Gorth! Get your bully boys ashore on the double, armed! Every heathen pirate in Asia will be on our backs. Captain Glessing... I'm asking your marines to guard this till I get it safely aboard a clipper.
Dirk: Aye, Mr. Brock.
Tyler: It'll be my pleasure, sir. Buy yourself a coffin.
Culum: Mr. Brock! Mr. Brock! [Chases after him and Tyler grabs him menacingly]
Tyler: Let me tell you this! You do that auction fair, or no man'll save thee-- not thy father, not anyone. And I'll have that knoll. if he tries to outbid me, I'll use his own silver to drive him back to bankruptcy. You tell him that. Brock and Son will be the taipans. [Tyler and his family continue walking]

[Dirk and Culum walk up the knoll]
Dirk: The view's extraordinary, do you not agree?
Culum: If the church is not built on the knoll--
Dirk: I know all about the church.
Culum: I'm not afraid of ya. You can kill me if you like, but you'll hang for it.
Dirk: You think I'd kill ya?
Culum: When I came here, you were God to me. Now I think you be the devil. I know you were a murderer and worse.
Dirk: Come here. Sit down.
Culum: I'm all right standin'.
Dirk: There's a wondrous land across that water, Culum. A strange, silent world that stretches for leagues and leagues... like an unsailed sea, and more people than we could ever dream of.
Culum: They hate us.
Dirk: Aye, some do. I feel I was meant to bring them to us and us to them.
Culum: About the church... I want you to understand that I was not defying you. It was the only way.
Dirk: I know. With all that silver, Brock would have slaughtered us. I couldn't have stopped it. The knoll was a matter of face.
Culum: And you weren't angry?
Dirk: Oh, aye, I was... at first. But then I saw it saved me, and it gave you face.
Culum: But you lost face.
Dirk: Oh, aye. But I've enough, and to spare. Now, why be I the devil?
Culum: You trade in opium. You smuggle. You've done it for years.
Dirk: Aye. And what did you think I did?
Culum: I thought you traded goods from England for tea from China.
Dirk: The emperor will not let us sell goods from England... yet he demands silver for his tea. And if we paid in silver, it would bankrupt England in a year. So we sell opium to the Chinese for their silver and give it back to them for tea. That's how the China trade works.
Culum: Opium for tea?
Dirk: Aye. Why not? I didn't invent opium, nor the trade.
Culum: Aye. You did not invent adultery either, but that doesn't make it right.
Dirk: Culum, you do not understand.
Culum: How old is Gordon?
Dirk: Nineteen or 20.
Culum: He's my age. And he's your son also. And you sold his mother to Chen Sheng when you tired of her and bought yourself a new mistress.
Dirk: I did not sell her! I gave her away with a dowry. She became Chen's third wife, and she is respected.
Culum: And then you bought a new, younger woman.
Dirk: Culum, I've not been livin' in Throgmorton Street. This is the custom here.
Culum: Mr. Brock has one wife. Brock's wife is here!
Dirk: Your mother spent one year in Macao... and then went home never to return. Culum, I want you to take over from me. I need to be in London to stop Brock's maneuvers. And I want to be your friend.
Culum: You are my father. There is nothing I can do about that. But I choose my friends.

[Dirk is dancing with Mary at a lively ball]
Dirk: Isn't this splendid? You look very beautiful, I must say. Ah, look at them. French, German, Russian, American. They were all forbidden in China, but now they can land here, trade here. Oh, it's a glorious night, Mary Sinclair.
Mary: They all thought you mad. Even I had my doubts.
Dirk: Well, it had to be. I knew in my China bones... it was my fate to make it be no matter what. It may have its price.
Mary: I tell you, out here miles from home, more things can happen between a boy and a girl at one ball like this, than in a year of normal life.
Dirk: And how would you know? This is your home.
Mary: Perhaps. When the fleet returns to India. Captain Glessing's staying on as commander of the harbor. He's asked for my hand.
Dirk: Really?
Mary: It may only be the ball, but I'm sorely tempted. He's a fine man.
Dirk: Yes.
Mary: But do you think the Mary you know would be a fine wife for him?
Dirk: If you marry him proper... he would be a blessed man, whatever the past.
Mary: I love this one. it's my favorite. My God.

Manuel: She does not give you much of a choice when it comes to judging.
Aristotle: Oh, Manuel, you're like the rest. You're all transfixed by her tits. True, they are impeccable... but the contest is for the best dressed... not the best undressed.

May-may: This slave begs her master to sell her.
Dirk: You're not a slave, and you'll not be sold.
May-may: Please to sell... to anyone, to whorehouse, to another slave.
Dirk: You're not for sale.
May-may: This slave have no face before her lord and owner. She cannot live here.
Dirk: Get up. You have not offended me. You surprised me. European clothes do not suit you. I will not sell you. But if you dinnae want to stay, you're entirely free to leave.
May-may: Please to sell. Until owner sell, a slave cannot go.
Dirk: By God. You are a miserable slave. I've a mind to sell you into the street of blue lanterns. But who'd want to buy a dirty baggage like you? I dinnae ken. I paid good silver for you, and I was cheated, by God. Am I not good to ya? Eh? Generous?
May-may: Yes, lord.
Dirk: You thievin', miserable slave. I'm gonna whip ya till my arm hurts. Lie down there! Go on! You dare to get clothes made behind my back!
May-may: No whip too hard! I'm three months with child!
Dirk: You dare to wear them without my approval! You worthless, dirty slave! How I put up with you these years, I dinnae ken! Stop your wailin'! Come, remove my shoes. Is it true? You be with child? Go wash yourself. And bring me tea, you motherless wretch. Quickly!

Dirk: [Lying in bed with May-may standing at edge] You be with child? Well, if that be the case, I may give you another chance.
May-may: Yes, please. Please, forgive.
Dirk: But it better be a son. [Blows out candle] Now, get into bed. I'm cold. [He shuffles over and May-may climbs in] In time, I may be forgiving you, lass. In time.

Tyler: No, listen, I'm gonna pay all the same. Christ, if I just dinnae get sick. Your boy and mine be like old shipmates.
Dirk: Aye. They are.
Tyler: 'Tis about Tess I come to see you. Your boy wants to marry her. I'm against it, but the girl and her mother, they talked me into it. Somehow, I thought they would. Her dowry will be the richest in all Asia. They be marryin' next year.
Dirk: I'll see ya in hell first.
Tyler: That be later, Dirk. That be later. First, they be marrying. I know what's in your mind, and Gorth's, but I'll not let you break Noble House through a girl's skirts. I hate your guts and I always will, but she loves Culum, and that's the mortal truth. She'll get over it. You don't love your Culum the way I love my Tess. I'll tell you this. You give them a fair wind and an open sea... and I'll be doing likewise.
Dirk: You know, when I was a cabin boy, and you were a bully of a third mate. I despised you. But by the Lord, I never dreamed you'd sink to using your own daughter to get something you're not man enough to take on your own. I'll use the devil to break you. And by God, break you I will. I know what's puttin' you in bed.

Culum: So that was the China lady. Why couldn't I talk to him? Mr. Quance, please. Please leave me alone.
Aristotle: I'm sorry, lad. I haven't the strength to go back down. I'm sorry about your dad. it was his fate. Joss rules us all in the end. I hate that word. The oldest story in the world is of sons who didn't appreciate their fathers until they were dead. I wouldn't make a cross of it. L-Look, look, I know it's a bad time to bring it up, Tai-Pan... but could you conceivably lend me 150 guineas?
Culum: What did you say?
Aristotle: Oh, it's as embarrassing for me as it is for you, Tai-Pan... but that old witch Fotheringill-- she's so upset about the damage to her houseboat, she's going to throw me out unless I pay her.
Culum: You called me Tai-Pan.
Aristotle: Well... you are, aren't you? [Culum gives him coin purse who accepts it graciously]
Orlov: Master Culum!
Culum: Aye.
Orlov: Captain Brock sent a parcel of orders aboard my ship.
Culum: What orders?
Orlov: He ordered us to put the flag at half-mast. Something that didn't need his telling. He also ordered your missus to go aboard the White Witch... and to tell you not to worry, he was arranging your dad's funeral... and would dispose of the China lady. He said you'd be joining him now, and I was to-- is that your wishes?
Culum: Gordon will make the arrangements for our father's funeral. And it is my wishes... he and his lady be buried together. Then go aboard White Witch and fetch my wife.
Orlov: "Fetch"?
Culum: Aye. Fetch. And take as many men as you think you'll need. And, Captain Orlov, give these to Brock. They're his gold sovereigns. Tell him... if it's a funeral he wishes to arrange... the Tai-Pan suggests he buy himself a coffin.
Orlov: Aye, aye... Tai-Pan.


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