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This sweeping account of the life of Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China, follows the leader's tumultuous reign. After being captured by the Red Army as a war criminal in 1950, Pu-Yi recalls his childhood from prison. He remembers his lavish youth in the Forbidden City, where he was afforded every luxury but unfortunately sheltered from the outside world and complex political situation surrounding him. As revolution sweeps through China, the world Pu-Yi knew is dramatically upended. Written by
This was the first western film made in and about the country to be produced with full Chinese government cooperation since 1949. See more »
When Johnston is about to board a ship to England in 1931, a ticket office window is seen in the background with opening and closing times given in simplified Chinese characters. China only switched to simplified characters after the Communists came to power in 1949, with a drive to improve literacy. At the time this scene takes place, traditional full-form characters would have been used. See more »
Reginald Fleming 'R.J.' Johnston:
The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he's growing up, he may wonder why he's the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door. I think the Emperor is the loneliest boy on Earth.
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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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