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A MASTERPIECE WORTHY OF THE TAIPAN!
on March 14, 2008
James Clavell was a WONDERFUL Writer (yes, with a capital W) and NOBLE HOUSE was a gift he left to us!
Through his eyes we visit Hong Kong in the 1970's. Clavell, a virtuoso connoisseur of the human condition, manages to interweave a multitude of stories into a continuous carpet of a city living fast, taking risks, winning and loosing but never giving up.
Heads of huge conglomerates on the verge of foundering - yet never letting go of their rival's throat; dirt-poor Chinese maids striking it rich by a sudden turn of their joss; photographer-Wo and his trophy collection; drug-running smugglers asking for favors-you-can't-refuse; cold war spy networks riddled with double and triple agents; an American stock-market runner trying his hand in raiding Hong Kong companies; ladies getting "pillowed", men getting wooed, fortunes made and lost in the 10 days these all take place. Will the Noble House survive?
To quote Balzac, behind every great fortune lies crime. To prove him right, Noble House is but a thinly veiled reference to Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd, a real company. Anticlimactically for an historic British company operating in China, it is nowadays incorporated in Bermuda - and trying to forget its opium-running past (like so many City of London companies respectable today yet founded on drugs, dead cockneys and destroyed natives).
All these stories were presented masterfully in the original novel, without ever loosing the reader's interest or dropping the ball of building tension. There were less than a dozen writers who could do this - starting with Homer. My copy was so worn I had to replace it.
Now, this is a 1988 TV mini series based on the book - of comparable merit. Until recently, the mini-series were available only on VHS. The major casting was excellent (having suave Pierce Brosnan and beastly John Rhys-Davies go head-to-head was a stroke of genius). The rest of the cast was a mix of hit-or-miss: a really young Tia Carrere as mealy-mouth Venus Poon was a hit; Julia Nickson-Soul as the Eurasian beauty Orlanda Ramos a miss. All in all, a truly beautiful production, yet, although it run for 6 hours total, it barely painted a broad-stroke picture of the complex story-lines.
Nevertheless, my advice is to first read the book and only THEN watch this TV mini series.