And so I went and started watching Yellowthread Street, the ITV-produced TV series from 1990 based on the wonderful – and highly recommended – novels by William Leonard Marshall.
So far I had only seen the title sequence… admittedly not much to express an informed opinion.
But Emma, in the comments, pointed me towards a handful of episodes available on YouTube. Only one season was produced, and there’s only six episodes available at the time of writing, but six is better than nothing.
Now, based on the general wisdom, I was led to believe that the series sucked. And it was easy to believe the general wisdom, because it is difficult to imagine someone being able to translate on the screen the mayhem and the intricacies of Marshall’s novels.
But talk is cheap.
What do the episodes really look like?
OK, my impression – and it could be absolutely wrong, mind you – is that someone at ITV, in 1990, got this big idea, and pitched it like there was no tomorrow:
Imagine Miamy Vice in Hong Kong!
There is a certain “look & feel” to the series that owes a lot, I think, to Michael Mann’s creature (whose last season was to be broadcast right then, in 1990): two rather street-stylish cops moving through the seediest and the most glamorous spots of Hong Kong, scary criminals, the Mob, beautiful women, night scenes with lots of neon and blue lights… There is a certain neo-noir feel that sometimes looks not fully realised, maybe because the series died in its infancy.
Also, 1990 was the year in which everybody, but everybody, discovered Hong Kong cinema, and directors like John Woo – The Killer had hit the screens the previous year, and there was a strong buzz going. Triads, gunfights, heroic bloodshed were entering into the collective imagination.
Why not ride the dragon?
All in all it is not bad, but very little remains of Marshall’s original take on Hong Kong, its chaos and its color, and the author’s ensemble approach to police procedural.
So, yes, if you are coming from the Yellowthread Street novels, the series sucks, boy it does.
On the other hand, if you don’t know the novels (what a pity!) and you come to the series as just another cop show, you might be positively impressed.
The locations, in pre-Handover Hong Kong, are beautiful, the cast is diverse and more than adequate1, the music feels like a jump in the past, as do the clothes.
The stories hold up nicely, even when they are predictable.
And I’ve still to see Spirit Runner, the only episode, out of a total of 13 filmed, actually penned by Marshall.
The bottom line seems to be, if you are looking for a cop show with some different elements and a lot of promise that never had the opportunity to really bloom, point your browsers to Youtube and do a search for Yellowthread Street.
And check the novels.
You’ll love the novels.
- and as a fan of the Longmire TV series, I was surprised and delighted in finding a youngRobert Taylor as one of the detectives on the show. ↩