Noble House (mini-series) locations
I’ve recently finished reading James Clavell’s excellent “Noble House”. For those who don’t know, it’s a fictional snapshot of a week in 1963 surrounding the nasty and underhand goings-on between a couple of trading business: Struans (based on Jardine Matheson) and Rothwell-Gornt (based on what was Swire & Butterfield).
I think Clavell wrote it back in the the late 70′s/early 80′s, because even though it is set in 1963 it includes fictionalised accounts of real-life events such as the October 1971 Jumbo Restaurant fire and the infamous July 1972 Po Shan Road landslide. Anyway, most of the names have been changed to protect the guilty, but Hong Kongers will be able to match places and companies with their real-life equivalents.
I was so enthralled by the novel that I went out and purchased the DVD of the 1988 mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan. Big mistake! The thing is truly awful. Most of the plot from the book missing and the aside for a couple of main protagonists, the acting is really awful and a bit cringe-worthy.
Anyway, shiteness aside. The thing is worth watching for the late 80′s scenery. I believe it was filmed in 1988, which as we all know is an age ago in terms of what can happen to places in Hong Kong. Actually many places haven’t changed at all, but there are some little snippets worth preserving on film, if not in real life.
So after trawling through about 6 hours of utter claptrap, I compiled a list of locations used in the program that people may be interested to know about. A big thanks to Jon Herd whose idea this was in the first place, and I hope he doesn’t mind me stealing some of his thunder (actually Jon, feel free to pipe up with places I may have missed), and of course my good friend Thomas Ngan whose encyclopedic knowledge of HK has helped to nail some of the harder to find locations.
Anyway, in no particular order, here are the ones I have been able to identify. Apologies, this will be a long entry because there is a shed-load of pics to include.
Jardine House – is used to represent Struans’ HQ, quite apt when you consider that the fictional Struans was based on Jardines.
Worldwide House – is used for Rothwell-Gornt. From Quillan’s office you can see Exchange Square and Jardine House in the background.
Exchange Square – after a day of being sold short, Dunross, Bartlett and Tcholok leave Exchange Square and you can see “Oval with Points” by Henry Moore – a well-known sculpture in the easily recognisable square along with the Central walkway system in the background.
Repulse Bay Tin Hau Temple – used for Dunross’s clandestine meeting with Four Finger Wu.
Aberdeen – Speaking of old four fingers, the famous harbour is seen regularly when his character is involved, his boat is moored at Aberdeen.
Jumbo Restaurant – The Floating Dragon is obviously based on the Jumbo, and there was a real-life fire on it, albeit in 1973? before it was officially opened for business, however, the burning version on film is obviously a good (and expensive) replica. However, pretty sure some scenes – like the one below – were filmed of the proper exterior. I’ve been here recently and would say the place hasn’t moved in the past 20+ years. I think it may be well and truly secured to the seabed by struts, but I don’t know for definite.
St Michael’s Catholic Cemetery, Happy Valley – where John Chen’s funeral is held.
Dragon Garden, Tsuen Wan – Philip and Diane Chen’s property. Famously also used as Hi Fat’s residence in The Man with the Golden Gun. Website here: http://dragongarden.hk/
These red doors could also be seen in the James Bond film. They’ve been kept in storage since the Govt widened Castle Peak Road. I believe they will be restored to their original positions once some funding can be found. Actually, I say original, but the front walls of the property were demolished and rebuilt further back as part of aforementioned road widening, so the walls that now exist are not the original ones.
Happy Valley Racecourse – the racecourse hasn’t changed too much but the surrounds have seen a lot more highrises appear in the last few years.
Central Police Station – at least that’s what I believe the next place to be. Please correct me if I’m wrong (I haven’t been there yet).
Boat Shelter next to Kellet Island - I can’t find a proper name for this place on any map. It’s the typhoon shelter on the western side of Kellet island (i.e. where the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is based). Anyway, it’s where Gornt picks up Bartlett for a ride in his boat, Sea Witch. Kellet Island can be seen on the right in the following snapshot.
Kai Tak Airport – as with any show filmed in HK prior to 1998, Kai Tak is usually featured in some way (or at least the planes coming into land). In Noble House we get to see a glimpse of the interior.
According to the old geocities website (rediscovered courtesy of Mike Busse), this last shot is actually from the Shun Tak Centre and not Kai Tak.
Tao Fung Shan, Shatin – used as the Beijing location where Dunross meets his old childhood friend (whose name I didn’t catch). The scene is bizarre in the extreme with hordes of comrades performing communal tai chi (because that’s what they all do in China, right?). In reality this cool place is a Christian Seminary in the hills above Shatin. I’ve blogged about it previously here.
15 Barker Road, Victoria House – this is used as the location for Dunross’s mountain abode. In reality it’s the official residence of the Chief Secretary. At the time of filming (i.e. pre-handover) it was used by the Colonial Secretary.
Clearwater Bay Golf Course – Dunross has a round of golf with Mr Tip here – High Junk Peak is visible in the background, as is Steep Island.
The small island in the middle is Trio island. You can also see Bluff Island and Basalt Island in the back right. Many a good dive done by me at all three.
The Tregunter – doubles for Rose Court in the series. In the book and series it gets toppled by a landslide (a fictional one of course based on the real events of Po Shan Road in July 1972). It’s still there so I can only assume they destroyed a model in the TV series
Pearl Island – it took Thomas Ngan on Gwulo.com about 5 seconds to identify this location after Herdy had provided some screen snaps. This is the location that doubles as the Chinese border crossing. Brian Kwok is released over the causeway and in the background is the giveaway: the double chimney of the old desalination plant that used to stand on Tsing Fat Road, can be seen in the background. Well done T!!
The Peninsula – in the book it’s called the Victoria and Albert Hotel. We all knew it was the Pen, and thus it is used as such in the TV version. Interesting to see that 1988 was still before the forecourt had been raised and the steps up to the entrance still visible.
The Intercontinental Hotel – this place was previously known as The Regent hotel. You can see the name prominent in the background of some scenes. It’s used in a couple of scenes when Orlanda Ramos is conducting a TV interview. Dunross goes there to meet Brian Kwok one time (but he doesn’t show because he has been arrested) and at the end Orlanda is living there after the Rose Court disaster destroys her home.
Central Star Ferry Pier – features in a few scenes. Sadly the pier was closed and demolished a couple of years ago – to much protest from a vocal group of conservationists. It was soon followed in its removal by…
Queens Pier – another victim of the most recent bout of harbour reclamation. Dunross boards his junk to Macau with Casey here.
The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts – is used for the Ho Pak Bank HQ.
Third Street and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun – this area doubles as Aberdeen town on film. The street sign is quite visible in this scene. The building with the old street sign is still there, it’s the community centre that also doubles as Aberdeen Police Station and looks pretty much the same (albeit cleaner…hooray!)
Actually, I should mention another snippet of info from Thomas and that is that this building – the Western District Community Centre – is also known as the Old Tsan Yuk Hospital, and has its own wiki entry here.
Man Mo Temple and Ladder Street – Philip Chen (Burt Kwouk showing us he really can’t act very well after all) delivers the ransom money here.
Repulse Bay – is used again as the location that Gornt takes Tcholok in the Sea Witch. The small islet of Tau Chau is quite obvious in the background of the next snap.
Avenue of Stars – what was TST waterfront promenade has now become the very naff Avenue of Stars. Bartlett and Orlanda go for a little walk down here in episode 3.
The Cenotaph – the location at which Bartlett strikes a deal with Gornt to overthrow the Noble House. As far as I am aware it’s off limits to the public at most times, but people can be seen stomping all over it in the show.
2 Shek O Road – The location of Lando Mata’s house, supposedly located in Macau, but actually filmed on the south eastern side of HK Island.
Government House and surrounds – Dunross has to go there to meet the Governor and Superintendent Crosse to secure Brian Kwok’s release. We first see a long shot , followed by a view of his car coming down Kennedy Road before turning in through the main gates.
De Voeux Road West – Many thanks to my friend Thomas Ngan for identifying the following picture of the end of De Voeux Road where the tramline turns past Western Market. As he noted the tram stops are unchanged as are the “No Entry” signs which can still be seen today.
Nathan Road – Another identification by Thomas. I had guessed it was somewhere along Nathan Road but wasn’t sure where – Thomas noted the flags on the left hand side and has identified them as belonging to the former Hyatt Regency Hotel (previously known as The President Hotel). The block is now occupied by iSquare.
Nathan Road by Soy Street – Another ID by Thomas. To be honest I don’t think I would ever have been able to identify this spot because so much of Nathan Road looks very similar to me.
Stubbs Road – I’ve checked GoogleEarth Streetview and can see that this lampost is still in-situ. The slip road that can be seen leads to the main gate of King Yin lei. As is the wall with the small step in it. this shot was taken from a small platform at the end of Evergreen Villa.
Katoomba, 22 Magazine Gap Road – Thomas to the rescue again. He spied this one quite quickly (just taken me a while to update). Luckily the guys and gals on Gwulo were looking at this one not so long ago. Here is the Gwulo thread and you will now also see this picture added to the mix.
Stanley Beach – Another ID by Thomas. Before the waterfront promenade was constructed, Stanley used to have a lovely sandy beach that for some reason the authorities decided to get rid of (why!?). The buildings at the back of the first shot are still pretty much as they were other than the fact that they now front an asphalt road and not a beach.
The second shot is more interesting because it shows what Thomas tells me is the old Ma Hang squatter village.
This squatter village used to stand where the reconstructed Murray House now sits. For any doubters still remaining I also managed to find some late 80′s snaps on Panoramio, courtesy of someone called Max Farrar : http://www.panoramio.com/photo/20974239
Here is another that has been unidentified until Angus took a stab in the dark and totally nailed the location. See the comments below this entry for more details, but for a modern day comparison courtesy of Googlemaps here is a link to a streetview photo taken recently (I believe sometime last summer – 2009). So thanks to Angus, we now know that the village seen on the left below is Nam Chung – way out near to the border on the southern side of Starling Inlet.
Here is another snap, identified courtesy of Thomas again. These is a scene when the old A-Mah is followed back to her house by the police and there is a shot of her on the balcony doing some spring cleaning. Thomas (and I have no idea how he manages this) has been able to track it down to a single block on Jessops St. Here is a (granted not very good screen grab because its a downward panning shot so you never really get the full view) snap from the show.
And here is Thomas’ modern day comparison. You should notice that the block I am talking about is next to (this side) the green building with the signs on the balconies. The block used in the show has been (surprise surprise) redeveloped, but actually the green building still exists complete with all the signs you can see in the show.
Cleverly Street, Sheung Wan
Thomas sent me this ages ago, I was just being too lazy to add it. He found the modern location that was used for the scenes around the supposed Aberdeen Branch of the Ho Pak Bank. Here is a screen shot below.
It seems to have been a fairly busy location at the time (assuming not everyone was an extra in the show) and also the road looks fairly narrow. Compare it to the modern shot of Cleverly Street and Burd Street. The location for the bank was at the corner you can see at this link. Astonishing how much the place has changed. The whole left hand side has been ripped out and replaced by a park. Once again thanks to Thomas (sometimes I think he should be the one writing this blog )
Unlike the novel, Dunross makes a side trip to Macau in the series for some nooky with Tcholok and we have a bit of a travelogue of some old sites here as well.
St Paul’s Church Facade – the icon of Macau and seen in anything related to Macau, including this series.
Lisboa Hotel and Casino – another iconic building.
Old Pier next to the Maritime Museum – it still stands now but is worth seeing in the series as it shows it at a time before the main road was constructed behind it. Dunross alights from his boat here.
A-Ma Temple – seen in the background as Dunross gets off at the pier.
Hotel Bela Vista – In it’s former incarnation as a hotel I should say. These days it has undergone some massive renovations to become the Portuguese Consul’s residence. Almost too large to be wasted on one person me thinks but there you go. Here is a more recent Panoramio shot as well. Read more about the actual hotel here.
As yet unidentified (please feel free to make suggestions):
I don’t claim to be a complete expert on all these places and in fact there are some locations that I just couldn’t place. Following are the photos that currently elude me, so if anyone can help fill in the blanks then please speak up.
Two shots from an NT location for the dumping of John Chen’s body. Actually initially thinking it may have been somewhere in Kam Tin, Thomas has managed to translate some of the Chinese and given me a possible location of So Kwun Wat in the Tai Lam area. I don’t know the exact location yet so I’ll leave it here for the time being.
Another possible NT shot here (actually a few of them). This next one looks like nowhere I know. It is supposed to be rural Beijing but looks more like a country road in the UK. Does anyone know anywhere like this in HK? I thought perhaps near to the old Governors country residence in Fanling but the trees don’t look like HK ones.
The final one. Seen as Dunross speeds toward the supposed border. It looks like some sort of bridge/sluice gate for a reservoir. But alas I don’t recognise it.
Phew!! Well, after all those snaps, and what has turned out to be a very loooooong post I hope some people have found it marginally interesting. Many thanks to Thomas for helping ID quite a few of these snaps. I would love to hear from anyone else who can tell me somewhere I missed out or who can identify the places I’ve just listed as unknown.