A dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People's Republic. Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
In the Director's Cut of the film there is a scene, just before the Emperor Henry Pu-yi cuts his hair, in which the consorts are dancing to a song being played on a violin. While this scene takes place some time before 1924, the song is "Ol' Man River" from the musical "Showboat", first performed in 1927. See more »
This is somewhat long and generally lacking in excitement, but it's beautifully filmed and it serves as a fascinating look at the life of Pu Yi - the last Emperor of China, who came to the throne in 1908 when he was three years old, and finally died in 1967 as a gardener in Communist China, after serving 10 years in a PRC prison being ideologically "re- educated." Much of the story is told in flash-backs taken from his interrogation by Communist officials in the PRC prison. Much attention is paid to Reginald Johnston's book "Twilight in the Forbidden City." Johnston (played in the movie by Peter O'Toole) was Pu Yi's Scottish tutor.
John Lone's performance as Pu Yi was very good. Not surprising perhaps for someone who became an emperor at such a young age, Pu Yi is depicted as one who is used to comfort and used to having his way - a characteristic he seems to have retained for most of his life, although he doesn't really come across as bad or arrogant; just as someone who never learned how to care for himself or treat others as equals. I suppose it would be hard to expect a child who was treated almost like a god from the age of 3 to grow up psychologically well adjusted. He was actually overthrown not much more than a decade after coming to the throne but I appreciated learning that although he abdicated when the Nationalist revolution took place, he retained his title and it seems as though the Forbidden City remained his "Empire." He continued to rule this little enclave within Beijing, much as the Pope rules a little enclave within Rome. That was very interesting.
There was a lot of attention to Pu Yi's accession as "Emperor of Manchukuo" in 1934. He became a puppet of the Japanese, who placed him on the throne to give Manchukuo a semblance of credibility but no freedom, was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war, and finally handed over to PRC officials in 1950, his transfer to Chinese authority being where the movie begins.
Near the end of the movie there's a truly fascinating scene depicting a small portion of the work of Mao's "Red Guards" during the so-called Cultural Revolution that was quite sobering. I was disappointed, though, with the way this ended. It chose to conclude on a sort of fantasy scene, where Pu Yi returns to the Forbidden City. I suppose it was meant as a way of saying that at his death he returned home, but I found it a weak ending rather than a heartwarming one, perhaps because while his life was interesting, I can't say that I developed any warm feelings or sympathy for Pu Yi by watching this.
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