There’s already been a Shogun sequel, and it bombed

There’s already been a Shogun sequel, and it bombed

Shogun is one of the most successful TV shows of the year, and with Season 1 now wrapped up, fans are already clamoring for Season 2. But the saga did get a movie sequel four decades ago — one that bombed spectacularly at the box office. 

The 2024 adaptation of James Clavell’s Shogun novel has received acclaim from pretty much all quarters, and viewing figures to match, with the show being watched by more than 9 million people worldwide when it launched on FX. 

Loosely based on a true story, the plot revolves around English navigator John Blackthorne washing up on Japanese shores in 1600, and becoming embroiled in a bloody civil war between Lord Yoshii Toranga and his enemies on the Council of Regents.

But this isn’t the first time Clavell’s story has spellbound audiences, as Shogun was turned into an even more successful miniseries in 1980, with 33% of all TV households in America watching some part of the broadcast.

What is the Shogun sequel Tai-Pan about?

Shogun’s success proved there was an audience for James Clavell’s work, which resuscitated interest in adapting an earlier novel, Tai-Pan. Published in 1966, it was written a decade before Shogun, but takes place long after in the chronology of the author’s ‘Asian Saga,’ with the narrative playing out in 1840s Hong Kong.

While that’s more than 200 years later, both plot and theme remain much the same, with Tai-Pan focussing on a British trader establishing his company in China shortly after the First Opium War, resulting in a clash between East and West.

The production merry-go-round started soon after publication, with Patrick McGoohan nearly starring in a 1968 film adaptation until the budget ballooned out of control. Followed by a Steve McQueen version that nearly shot in the early 1970s. While a pair of Bonds — Sean Connery and Roger Moore — both came close to playing protagonist Dirk Struan at the tail-end of that decade.

A disastrous shoot, and worse reviews

But ultimately, Australian actor Bryan Brown landed the role in the mid-1980s, under the stewardship of uber-producer Dino Laurentiis. Daryl Duke directed from a script by John Briley and Stanley Mann, though production was far from smooth, with Tai-Pan shooting in communist China, where restrictions and heavy censorship meant much was altered during principal photography. 

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The resulting film was widely panned. Roger Ebert awarded Tai-Pan just one star, calling it “the embodiment of those old movie posters where the title is hewn from solid rock and tiny figures scale it with cannons strapped to their backs, while the bosoms of their women heave in the foreground. It tells the saga of men who were larger than life, except for their brains, and of the women who loved them, lost them, left them, returned to them, double-crossed them, bore their children, oppressed their servants, and still found time to rend their hearts and their underwear.” 

Tai-Pan currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 14%, though admittedly, that’s based on just seven reviews. But the critical response was roundly negative, which translated into box office disaster when the film hit screens in 1986, with Tai-Pan grossing just $2 million, from an estimated budget of more than $25 million. 

In 1988, James Clavell claimed to have not seen the movie and expressed his desire to regain the rights and turn Tai-Pan into a miniseries. The author died before that could happen, but some 30 years on — and thanks to the resounding success of the new Shogun — don’t be surprised to see FX making that dream come true in the near future. 

All 10 episodes of Shogun are currently available on FX and Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK. Check out five movies to watch if you love the series and more shows streaming this month.

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