Hong Kong, Noble House Style

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Woody Wu / Reuters

Central district: The high-rise setting for much of Noble House

In western film and fiction, Hong Kong is a fabulously implausible place of strong-jawed Caucasian protagonists and their sinewy Chinese sidekicks. They are pitted in urgent struggles against bloodless communists or mustachioed triads with a penchant for quoting Confucian maxims. Willowy Eurasian sirens in brocade skirts set honey traps at every turn, and the duplicitous locals care for nothing but share-trading and cognac. Great events — a devastating typhoon, a transfer of sovereignty — provide epoch-shifting denouements to stories of unsurpassed venality.

The ne plus ultra of such depictions is Noble House, the 1988 TV miniseries that is a dumbed-down adaptation of the James Clavell novel of the same name. As a casting choice, Pierce Brosnan could not have been improved upon, playing the taipan, or chairman, of Struan & Co., which is modeled on the real-life conglomerate Jardine Matheson. Deborah Raffin — white of stocking and padded of shoulder — is the love interest and Ben Masters plays a silver-haired corporate raider. A pouting, 21-year-old Tia Carrere gives a splendid performance as a mistress by the name of Venus Poon. (See 10 things to do in Hong Kong.)

Over what purports to be a typical week in the life of Hong Kong, Struan & Co. is almost ruined, a top police officer is unmasked as a communist spy, the main characters are caught up in a fire on a floating restaurant and in a landslide that brings down a luxury apartment building, the stock market crashes and the son of a prominent Struan employee is murdered. All of this takes place in settings of high-'80s kitsch, through which Brosnan strides with not a hair out of place nor a crease in his fastidiously tailored attire. It's terrific.

If you are to do Hong Kong the Noble House way, you must dispense with the fashionable but frivolous side trips that have crept onto the tourist itinerary in the past decade, during which the city has tried to be less of a conscienceless cosmopolis and more of a balanced destination with something for all. Thus there will be no tree-hugging, bird-spotting visits to the Mai Po Marshes, no afternoons in the loft studios of Fo Tan artists and an embargo on sipping ristrettos in Elgin Street bars. Instead, Noble House Hong Kong is all about the old-school icons: go to Victoria Peak, have tea at the Peninsula hotel, get invited to someone's box at the Happy Valley races. Loaf around the lobby of Jardine House, which appears in the series as Struan & Co.'s headquarters. Partake of shark-fin banquets and black-tie suppers of foie gras and lobster. Travel only by limousine, yacht and helicopter. As you conduct this princely progress, adorn your speech — as the characters are all wont to do, even if nobody in Hong Kong ever does — with copious references to "joss" (luck, from the Portuguese deus, or "god"), face (and the importance of), high finance and underworld figures with piratical names (Four-Finger Wu, Smallpox Kin). Brosnan is also liable to utter startling ejaculations that are supposed to be Cantonese. Naturally, nobody understands his blather, but in its imperious cadence and dauntless delivery you can hear the music of Hong Kong's golden age.

See 10 things to do in Beijing.

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