Story: A Chinese pottery expert, a journalist, and a Hong Kong banker have seen graffiti that scares them into hiding. When the latter two turn up dead, Holmes helps the police and bank officials put the clues together, and unlock the meaning of the strange graffiti, but not before bringing Watson and his new girlfriend to within seconds of their own deaths. (For a detailed summary of the story, scroll down to “More information”.)
Setting: London, early 21st century
Note 1: Sherlock Holmes (福尔摩斯) is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Originally set in Victorian England, the stories have been given new life by this BBC series, in which Holmes uses his famous detective skills in 21st-Century London. As you watch, try to see what Sherlock sees—clues that others miss, which solve the case.
Note 2: The fantastic London-based “consulting detective” is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his powers of observation, his ability to use many disguises, and his use of forensic science skills to solve difficult cases. Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887, was featured in four novels and 56 short stories (generally published in serial form). The character quickly grew in popularity with the first series of short stories in Strand Magazine, beginning in 1891; the last story appeared in 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 to 1914. All but four stories are narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson. (Adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherlock_Holmes, 2013)
People and proper nouns:
- Sherlock Holmes (福尔摩斯): a consulting detective
- Dr John Watson: a former army doctor, now sharing a flat with Sherlock and assisting him as a detective/biographer (via blog)
- Soo Lin YAO: a young antiquities expert, who works at the National Antiquities Museum
- Sebastian (Seb) Wilkes: a leader at an important international finance bank, who had been Holmes’ classmate at university
- Edward (Eddie) Van Coon: works at the bank’s Hong Kong desk
- Detective Inspector Dimmock: a detective (probably new) at Scotland Yard
- Brian Lukis: an international journalist and travel writer
- Dr Sarah Sawyer: Watson’s boss at a small clinic (and would-be girlfriend)
- Mrs. Hudson: Sherlock’s kind landlord, who lives downstairs (in this episode, she brings food to Watson and Sarah at a thoughtful moment)
- General Shan: a leader in a Chinese criminal organization (Black Lotus Tong), and probably an assassin
- Scotland Yard: The headquarters for the British police department in London (for years, I was confused by this name, because I thought it was in Scotland!)
Vocabulary:(underlined words are vocabulary terms; *key terms) Blue terms are in part 1; green terms are in part 2; look at black-only terms before watching part 3. Bold one-word synonyms are good terms to memorize.
- *acrobatics/acrobat: skillful movements that require great balance or dexterity, like jumping/flipping through the air or balancing on a rope
- *antiquities: things made in ancient times
- ASBO: (BrE) anti-social behaviour order; a court order saying not to go somewhere or not to see particular people, given after being found guilty of destructive behavior like painting graffiti or hitting someone. “I was just holding your paint but they’re giving me an ASBO!”
- *assassin: someone paid to intentionally kill someone (often in connection with organized crime/mob/tong activity)
- *astute= clever: quickly able to gain a deep understanding of what you see, esp. so you can see how this gives you an advantage
- *to break in/broke in: to illegally enter a place, normally through a window
- *burnished: polished or improved so that it shines; “In some pots, the clay has been burnished by tea made over 400 years ago.”
- Chip and PIN: a brand name for “smartcards” (bank cards with an electronic chip) in the UK (although common since 2005 in the UK, such cards are not widely used in the US)
- cipher: a system of secret writing (or code)
- circumstantial evidence: based on something (facts/observations) that appears to be true but is not proven
- to be compromised: to be revealed or changed in an unwanted or dangerous way (one’s health, security information, or safety equipment can all be compromised)
- *to cover for sb: to do someone else’s work because he/she is absent (cover sometimes also has the connotation of “to protect”)
- curio: a small keepsake/object, thought to be interesting or unusual
- decipher=decode; to convert a cipher/code back into understandable language
- *detective: sb whose job is to discover information about crime (many work as police officers, though “private detectives” like Holmes work independently)
- *dexterity: advanced skill and speed in doing something (esp with your hands). “We’re looking for an assassin who can climb, who can shin up a rope. Where else would you find that level of dexterity?”
- *disguise: something that changes the way you look to hide who you are, how you feel, etc.; the act of doing this
- *flat=apartment (BrE, coll)
- *forensic (science/medicine/techniques): related to scientific methods used to find or understand clues related to crime
- *graffiti: words or pictures on walls or other public spaces, painted there without permission. “That graffiti was a message to someone.”
- *incentive: sth that encourages you to study or work harder (such as a promised reward)
- *inquisitive= curious; keenly interested and asking many questions
- light-fingered: refers to someone who steals (e.g., from a store). “The smuggler was killed because he was light-fingered.”
- locum: (BrE) professional who temporarily fills in for someone absent
- *mundane= boring; ordinary and not interesting
- peckish: (BrE coll) hungry for a snack. “He stopped on his way because he got peckish.” (AmE: “…he had the munchies.”)
- *physician= doctor (formal term)
- (had) a row: (BrE coll) had an angry argument (esp with a friend or relative)
- *sarcastic/sarcasm: saying things that are the opposite of what you mean, in order to make an unkind joke or to show that you are annoyed [While waiting for Sherlock to open the door, Dr Watson sarcastically said: “I’m the great Sherlock Holmes and I always work alone.”]
- *the scientific method: ask an objective question; do background research; construct a hypothesis; gather observable, measurable evidence through controlled, repeatable experiments; analyze the results, and adjust the hypothesis accordingly, followed by more tests; publish the findings so others can verify the results
- to shag: to have sex with someone (not commonly used in USA)
- *to season/seasoned: to use spices, tea, etc. AND time, in order to give something a special taste, color or feeling. “The tea pot is seasoned by repeatedly pouring tea over the surface.”
- *serial (form, number, etc.): one after the other, often depending on the one before; broken into parts for publication
- *smuggler: sb who takes something illegally from one country to another.
- syndicate: companies or people who join together to achieve a particular goal. “This foot tattoo is the mark of the Tong, an ancient crime syndicate, based in China.”
- synopsis: a summary of the main events in a book, movie, etc
- surgery: (BrE) a place where dental/medical patients are treated/seen (AmE: such a place is called a doctor’s office or medical clinic; surgery refers to a medical operation that involves work inside one’s body)
- Underground (or Tube): (BrE) a series of trains that run through “tubes” (tunnels) under major cities. They have different names in different countries (Subway-US; MTR-Hong Kong; Metro-France…)
- *villain: in a story, this is an evil character or a troublemaker we are not supposed to like
More information:(a synopsis to help you understand what you will see; adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blind_Banker; 2013)
At the National Antiquities Museum in London, Chinese pottery expert, Soo Lin YAO, sees graffiti that frightens her, and disappears. Meanwhile, Dr. John Watson is having financial problems, and needs to find a paying job. Sherlock Holmes takes Watson to “the bank”, which turns out to be an important international finance house. There Seb Wilkes, Sherlock’s old university friend, asks for help and promises to pay a large fee if Sherlock can figure out the “hole” in the bank’s security system. Near the top of this high-security building, someone broke in and painted two meaningless symbols on the wall.
Sherlock realises that the graffiti was a message meant for one man – Edward Van Coon of the Hong Kong desk, who (like Soo Lin) has disappeared. Sherlock breaks into Van Coon’s locked apartment and finds him dead. The police, under Detective Inspector Dimmock, regard it as a suicide, though Sherlock sees it as murder. Soon, journalist Brian Lukis is also killed inside his locked apartment. When Holmes and Watson investigate, they find similar mysterious graffiti.
Meanwhile, John obtains a job as locum at a local surgery with Dr Sarah Sawyer, who warns John that the work would be mundane (Watson: “Mundane is good sometimes. Mundane works.”).
Sherlock and John use receipts or a “diary” (BrE for a personal calendar) to trace where each victim went before the murders. They discover that Lukis and Van Coon had both just returned from China, and both went to an oriental curio shop “The Lucky Cat”. There, John discovers that the “graffiti” is ancient Chinese numerals. Sherlock breaks into Soo Lin’s empty flat, where he is attacked. Then they discover similar symbols at the museum and on a railway yard wall, and struggle to decode the messages.
Next, Holmes discovers that Soo Lin has been hiding at the Antiquities Museum; she explains that the code is the work of the criminal “Black Lotus Tong”, of which she was once a member. Unfortunately, before she can decode the message she is killed (and we learn that one of the assassins is Soo Lin’s brother). But Sherlock realises that Van Coon and Lukis were smuggling valuable antiquities from China to London, and were killed because at least one of them stole something. [If you don’t want to know the end of the movie, stop reading here.]
Sherlock figures out that the message is in the form of a book cipher, and he and John spend the night going through the first two victims’ books trying to find a book they both have. John’s first day at work does not go well, as he falls asleep at the surgery. Sarah covers for him, and Sherlock arranges a date at a local Chinese circus, for the three of them. While John and Sarah enjoy the classic escapology and acrobatics acts, Sherlock is attacked backstage; with Sarah and John’s help, they escape. Back at Baker Street, Holmes continues to search for the solution to the book cipher, but John and Sarah are soon kidnapped. The villains believe that John is Sherlock, and they threaten to kill Sarah (with a crossbow) to find out if “Sherlock” has found the missing treasure.
Fortunately, Sherlock finds the solution to the code, tracks the villains to their hideout, and rescues John and Sarah. He also realises that the elusive “treasure” (a jade hairpin) has been in plain sight all the time.
Sentences/dialogs from the movie (part 1)Blue parts indicate that they are especially important. (imdb’s website is a great place to find movie facts and more)
- 1. Dr John Watson: I didn’t get the shopping.
- Sherlock Holmes: What? Why not?
- Watson: Because I had a row, in the shop, with a chip and PIN machine!
- Holmes: You – you had a row with a machine?
- Watson: Sort of. It sat there and I shouted abuse. Have you got cash?
- Sherlock: Take my [credit] card.
- 2. [at Wilkes’ office at the bank]
- Holmes: You’ve been busy. Two trips around the world in one month?
- Seb Wilkes: Right. You’re doing that thing again. [to John] We were at uni together, and this guy here had a trick he used to do. He could look at you and tell you your whole life story… We hated it. We’d come down to breakfast in the formal hall and this freak would know you’d been shagging the previous night.
- Holmes: I simply observed.
- Seb Wilkes: Go on, enlighten me. Two trips a month, flying all the way around the world in a month, you’re quite right. Are you going to tell me there’s a stain on my tie from some special kind of ketchup you can only buy in Manhattan? Is it the mud on my shoes?
- Holmes: No, I was just chatting with your secretary outside. She told me.
- [Wilkes then tells Holmes that someone broke in without the security computers knowing it, and without being seen on security cameras that shoot a picture every 60 seconds. He didn’t steal anything, but left a message on one wall.]
- Seb Wilkes: We’ve got a hole in our security. Find it and we’ll pay you five figures. Here’s an advance [payment check]. Tell me how he got in. There’s a bigger one on its way.
- Holmes: I don’t need an incentive, Sebastian. [Holmes walks away]
- Watson: He’s kidding you, obviously. Shall I look after that [check] for you?
- 3. Watson [as they leave the bank]: You didn’t talk to his secretary. You said that just to irritate him. How did you know?
- Holmes: Did you see his watch? The time was right, but the date was wrong. Said two days ago. Crossed the date line twice and he didn’t alter it.
- Watson: Within a month. How’d you get that?
- Holmes: [It was a] New Breitling [watch]. Only came out this February.
- Watson: So, should we sniff around here a bit longer?
- Holmes: No… That graffiti was a message for someone at the bank, working on the trading floors. We find the intended recipient and…
- Watson: They’ll lead us to the person who sent it?
- Holmes: Obviously.
- 4. [Sherlock buzzes Van Coon’s neighbour, after noticing that she had a new name label, and thus had just moved in.]
- Eddie’s Neighbour: Hello?
- Holmes: Hi, um, I live in the flat just below you. I don’t think we’ve met!
- Eddie’s Neighbour: No, well, er, I just moved in.
- Holmes: Actually, I just locked my keys in my flat!
- Eddie’s Neighbour: You want me to buzz you in?
- Holmes: Yeah, and can I use your balcony?
- [then we see Sherlock jumping off of her balcony onto the one below it]
- 5. Detective Inspector Dimmock: We’re obviously looking at a suicide.
- Watson: It does seem the only explanation of all of the facts.
- Holmes: Wrong. It’s one possible explanation of some of the facts. You’ve got a solution that you like, but you are choosing to ignore anything you see that doesn’t comply with it.
- Dimmock: Like?
- Holmes: The wound’s on the right side of his head.
- Dimmock: And?
- Holmes: Van Coon was left-handed.
- Dimmock: Left-handed?
- Holmes: I’m amazed you didn’t notice. All you have to do is look around this flat. Coffee table on the left-hand side, coffee mug handle pointing to the left. Power sockets: [he] habitually used the ones on the left. Pen and paper on the left-hand side of the phone. Picked up with his right, took messages with his left. Do you want me to go on? There’s a knife on the breadboard with butter on the right side of the blade, because he used it with his left. It’s highly unlikely that a left-handed man would shoot himself in the right side of his head. Conclusion: someone broke in here and murdered him; only explanation of all of the facts.
- Dimmock: But the gun?
- Holmes: He was waiting for the killer. He’d been threatened.
- Dimmock: But if the door was locked from the inside, how did the killer get in?
- Holmes: Good. You’re finally asking the right questions.
- 6. Holmes: The world’s run on codes and ciphers, John. From the million-pound security system at the bank to the PIN machine you took exception to. Cryptography inhabits our every waking moment. But it’s all computer generated. Electronic codes, electronic ciphering methods. This is different. It’s an ancient device. Modern code-breaking methods won’t unravel it.
- Watson: Where are we headed?
- Holmes: I need to ask some advice.
- Watson: What? Sorry?
- Holmes: You heard me perfectly, I’m not saying it again. On painting [i.e., graffiti]. I need to talk to an expert.
Part 1 ends at 27:41, just after police think Watson painted graffiti.
Discussion (part 1)
- Why do you think this British character (Sherlock Holmes) is popular in so many countries?
- What do you think of the idea of taking an old fictional character and bringing him back to life in the 21st century? What do the Holmes stories have to offer the modern world?
- As a group, talk about a famous fictional character from your culture (e.g., from Chinese literature). Why is he/she famous and/or popular? Brainstorm about how this character could be “updated” for the current century, like Holmes was for this BBC series.
- Simply noting that a man was left-handed turned a “possible suicide” into a “murder investigation.” Are you right-handed or left-handed? (How does that affect you?)
- Talk about other “details” that play an important part in your life. (Examples: culture, hobby, mother’s personality, religion, favorite color, type of books/films you like, etc.)
Sentences/dialogs from the movie (part 2)
- 7. Watson [speaking into a mail slot, after Sherlock has broken into another flat, without letting John in] Do you think you could let me in this time? Can you not keep doing this, please?
- Holmes [yelling to the distant Watson]: I’m not the first. Somebody’s been in here before me. Size 8 feet; small but athletic.
- Watson [to himself]: I’m wasting my breath.
- Holmes [to himself]: Strong hands. Our acrobat. Why didn’t he close the window when he left? Oh, stupid! Obvious. He’s still here.
- [The attacker jumps out and starts to strangle Holmes. Watson is still locked out.]
- Watson [into the mail slot]: Anytime you want to include me… (I’d be glad to help). [mocking Sherlock angrily] ‘No, I’m Sherlock Holmes and I always work alone because no-one can compete with my massive intellect!’
- 8. [Watson finds a wall full of similar graffiti, but someone paints it over before Sherlock can arrive.]
- Watson: I don’t understand it. It was here 10 minutes ago.
- Holmes: Somebody doesn’t want me to see it. John, I need you to concentrate. Close your eyes. [He starts spinning Watson]
- Watson: Why? What are you doing?
- Holmes: I need you to maximize your visual memory. Try to picture what you saw. Can you remember it?
- Watson: Yes.
- Sherlock: Can you remember it?
- Watson: Yes, definitely.
- Sherlock: How much can you remember? Because the average human memory on visual matters is only 62% accurate.
- Watson: Well, don’t worry. I remember all of it. Well, at least I would, if I could get to my pockets. I took a photograph.
- 9. Soo Lin’s Museum friend: Those tea pots were her obsession. They need urgent work. If they dry out, then the clay can start to crumble. Apparently, you have to just keep making tea in them.
- Sherlock: Yesterday, only one of those pots was shining. Now, there are two.
- 10. Soo Lin: I was 15. My parents were dead. I had no livelihood; no way of surviving, day-to-day, except to work for the bosses. They are called the Black Lotus. By the time I was 16, I was smuggling thousands of pounds worth of drugs across the border. I managed to leave that life behind me [in England]. I hoped, after five years, maybe they would have forgotten me. But he (“the Spider”) came to my flat and asked me to help him track down something that was stolen. I refused.
- Watson: So, you knew him well, back when you were living in China?
- Soo Lin: Oh yes. He’s my brother. He has become their puppet.
Part 2 ends at 59:46, just after Watson gets a date.
Discussion (part 2)
- So far, what are some of the clues Sherlock has noticed (often when others didn’t)?
- What do we know, so far, about the murders? (Why were they killed? What do we know about the killer?)
- Soo Lin said that she and her brother “had no choice” (as orphans), except to become criminals. Is that true? Talk about how and/or why poor children are sometimes pushed into a life of crime. What can be done about this problem?
- Name some books, in your culture, that “(almost) everyone would own.” Briefly describe these books.
Sentences/dialogs from the movie (part 3)
- 11. Holmes: I need to get some air – we’re going out tonight.
- Watson: Actually, I’ve got a date.
- Holmes: What?
- Watson: It’s where two people who like each other go out and have fun?
- Holmes: That’s what I was suggesting.
- Watson: No, it wasn’t. At least I hope not.
- Holmes: Where are you taking her?
- Watson: Cinema
- Holmes: Dull, boring, predictable. Why don’t you try this [Yellow Dragon Circus]. In London for one night only.
- Watson [laughing]: Thanks, but I don’t come to you for dating advice. [But in the next shot you see them going to the circus.]
- 12. Watson: This is not a circus. Look at this [small] crowd. This is “art.”
- Holmes: This is not their day job.
- Watson [sarcastically]: Sorry, I forgot, they’re not a circus, they’re a gang of international smugglers.
- Holmes [after the show starts]: Classic Chinese escapology act. The crossbow’s on a delicate string. The warrior has to escape his bonds before it fires. She splits the sandbag, the sand pours out. Gradually, the weight lowers into the bowl.
- 13. [at Holmes’ apartment, after talking to the police]
- Sarah: So this is what you do. You and John. You solve puzzles for a living.
- Holmes: Consulting detective.
- Sarah: What are these [graffiti] squiggles?
- Holmes: They’re numbers. An ancient Chinese dialect.
- Sarah: So these numbers, it’s a cypher?
- Holmes [annoyed]: Exactly.
- Sarah: And each pair of numbers is a word?
- Holmes: How did you know that?
- Sarah: Two words have already been translated.
- 14. [General Shan thinks that Watson is Holmes, due to various circumstantial evidence.]
- Shan: If we wanted to kill you, Mr. Holmes, we would have done it by now. We just wanted to make you inquisitive. Do you have it?
- Watson: Do I have what?
- Shan: The treasure.
- Watson: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
- Shan: I would prefer to make certain. Everything in the West has its price. And the price for her life [pointing to Sarah], is information. Where’s the hairpin? The Empress pin, valued at £9 million sterling? We already had a buyer in the West. And then one of our people was greedy. He took it, brought it back to London. And you, Mr. Holmes, have been searching.
- 15. Shan [speaking to her computer—we can’t see who is listening]: Without you, without your assistance, we would not have found passage into London. You have my thanks.
- Mystery person (M) [he replies by typing]: Gratitude is meaningless. It is only the expectation of further favours.
- Shan: We did not anticipate… We did not know this man would come. This Sherlock Holmes. And now your safety is compromised.
- M: They cannot trace this back to me.
- Shan: I will not reveal your identity.
M: I am certain [that you won’t].
Discussion (part 3)
- Begin by describing Sherlock, his methods and his character/personality. Give examples from this film.
- The author, Sir/Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle, was knighted for his medical work, but he is now famous for creating Sherlock Holmes. He said he got the idea from a professor who used similar methods. Comment on these things
- How did a professor influence Doyle’s life. How has a professor influenced your life?
- How do you think Doyle felt about his two careers, and the recognition that came from each? Would you prefer to be remembered for a professional accomplishment, or for something creative/artistic?
- How do you think it feels to be knighted by a king or queen? Do you think Doyle was more proud/happy about that, or about his success as a writer? Explain.
- Why are some people “remembered” long after they die? Is this important? Do you think this was their goal or did it just happen on its own?
- In small groups, talk about the film. What part did you like best/least? Let each group member describe a character other than Sherlock. Did the following people “get away with” questionable behavior (or some would call it crime or sin)?
- Zhi Zhu (the spider) [he killed three people]
- Eddie Van Coon [he smuggled things into American, and stole a very expensive Jade hair pin]
- Eddie’s secretary [she received stolen merchandise, and had a sexual relationship with her boss]
- Dr John Watson [he fell asleep at work, on his first day]
- General Shan [she was behind the smuggling and murders]
- The invisible mastermind “M” [he was General Shan’s boss]
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