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A Beautiful Epic
Grey Gardens13 August 2010
The Last Emperor is a truly larger than life film telling us about a life of a human, but not just any human, the Emperor himself. He's also not your normal emperor, he's the Last Emperor of China, his name is Pu Yi. He lives his life however he wants to and he sort has a larger than life persona. In just his late 20s, he stood at the throne ruling over one of the largest nations on Earth, with the most people on Earth. He controls and commands the lives of nearly Five-Hundred Million people. Throughout 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.

While the film isn't perfect, it is certainly beautiful and a visual treat for anyone. Bernardo Bertolucci's cinematic biography of Emperor Pu Yi is an emotional, beautiful and astonishing film... And it's a massive production which won 9 Oscars, It deserved every single one of them. The film will always be remembered for its size and its beauty. This Asian Masterpiece tells us a story of not only an Emperor, but of a country, which was and still is the largest nation in the world. The Last Emperor is certainly one the Largest, most beautiful films ever created in Cinema.

A Monumental Achievement. ~10/10~
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A great artistic achievement
Stanley Strangelove16 April 2006
Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" is a monumental, perfect film, and stands as one of the great artistic achievements in any artistic medium.

Told in a complicated flashback/ flash-forward style, it's the story of Pu Yi (born 1906) who was the last absolute monarch of China. During his lifetime he falls from the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, the emperor/God of billions of Chinese, to an anonymous peasant worker in communist China.

Pu Yi was the child emperor from 1908 until the Chinese revolution in 1911 when he had to abdicate. He was allowed to remain in the Forbidden City but was stripped of his power by the communists. He was expelled from the city in 1924 by a warlord. In 1932, Puyi was installed by the Japanese as the ruler of Manchukuo, a puppet state of Imperial Japan. At the end of World War II, Pu yi was captured by the Soviet Red Army and turned over to the Chinese communists. Considered a traitor, he spent ten years in a reeducation camp until he was declared reformed. He voiced his support for the Communists and worked at the Beijing Botanical Gardens.

This film vividly portrays the change from the imperial and religious traditions of ancient China to the godless totalitarianism of modern communist China, so the film is, on one level, the story of China's revolutionary transition from imperialism to communism.

Visually the film is stunning especially the scenes in the Forbidden City. It was the first film to receive permission to film in the Forbidden City.

The film can be enjoyed on the first viewing but really demands more than one viewing and some knowledge of history. In this respect it resembles Akira Kurasawa's masterpiece "The Seven Samurai.

The cast includes John Lone as emperor Pu Yi, Joan Chen, and Peter O'Toole.

The film won 9 Oscars including best director and best film. A must see on DVD widescreen or in the theater.
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I love this movie
aschumacher22 May 2003
I saw this movie at the cinema when I was 17 years old. I was completely overwhelmed by the movie (I already had a fascination for China) that I decided to visit china in 1992 just to see the forbidden palace (and the rest of China of course).

The music in the movie is brilliant, the cinematography outstanding, the story very moving (the end of the movie broke my heart).

Don´t expect an action-packed or high paced movie and be ready to sit through 3+ hours. If you´re all that, it might be worth a look for you as well:)
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The Last Epic
shardik28 May 2001
The Last Emperor, like Once Upon a Time in America, is an epic saga that delves, among various aspects, into the realm of Time and the ensuing effects it has on a human being and his culture as it passes through his lifetime. The Last Emperor of the Qing dynasty, Pu-Yi, was coronated in 1909 at the age of three and due to his youth ended up being a puppet to his adminstration. Bertolucci successfully shows us a young man who while understandably spoilt by many luxuries of monarchy, is in actuality a tender hearted, independent thinker (not doer) who is passionate about his homeland (Manchuria) and has a ravenous desire for experiencing life in the outside world. His caged lifestyle in the Forbidden City (Beijing) is definitely a major contributor to this mindset. From his infancy the director takes us through a chain of historical events that ultimately lead to Pu-Yi being an ordinary man (we know this from the beginning, however flashbacks explain his situation at the start). However, it is not the desired lifestyle that he sought as an Emperor in his youth.

The Last Emperor is breathtaking in its cinematography and Bertolucci's direction is impeccable. A lot of criticism was directed at his film '1900' (1976) due to its sheer length. The Last Emperor clocks in at 215 minutes (director's cut) and barring 10 minutes of a marriage related scene, it never lets up. Bertolucci seamlessly interweaves the flashbacks with Pu-Yi's situation in post-WWII China by providing us with a real life tragedy that epitomizes human weaknesses, vices, love and loyalty. Here is a film that is a true story but goes beyond mere narration or simple depiction - it is a three and a half hour, non-stop attention grasping journey through the spectrum of humanity that defines our lifetime through the eyes of an unfortunate soul who was a victim of circumstances like many are. Any questions that the viewer will have concerning an event in the plot will be immediately answered through the rich tapestry that Bertolucci shows when depicting Pu-Yi's imperial life.

On a technical note, the acting in this film is brilliant. John Lone deserved atleast an Oscar nomination for best actor due to his seamless portrayal of Pu-Yi. He makes his portrayal of a 21 - 60 year old Pu-Yi seem like an effortless act. Through his performance the audience feels an even greater compassion for the last emperor as we come across a man who despite all the hardships he endured was very compassionate and soft centered. The sheer down to earth nature of his character as a 55-60 year old who walks with a tired smile, forever accompanied by his loving brother, is a testament to Lone's ability to portray any age and move the audience.

Once again, it takes a Hailey's comet like event for the Academy to nominate someone from the eastern world (or non-British, non-American when it comes to best actor). The rest of the cast is also brilliant barring Ryuichi Sakamoto (who portrays the one-armed Masahiko Amakasu) who, for the most part, presents us with a classic display of Japanese overacting. Although I wouldn't call it overacting in a Kurasawa-esque/Japanese film environment, it becomes quite hilarious in a production such as this.

This apart, the film is brilliant. It is the last great epic (yes, Gladiator is very good, but is far from an epic in my mind) and somehow I hope it is rediscovered and re-appreciated as it once was back in the late eighties.

While the Oscars have always contrived to ignore the true best picture for most of the last two decades, here is an example of a best picture winner which beat the competition by miles.
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An Example of Quantity and Quality Combining to Make an Unforgettable Film
tfrizzell26 September 2000
"The Last Emperor" is a near perfect film. It was nominated for nine Oscars in 1987 and it won nine (including the Best Picture Oscar). The movie is about the life of Pu Yi (John Lone), China's last emperor. In spite of becoming emperor at the age of three, Yi's reign was more of a burden than anything else. Yi would ultimately end up living an unsavory life of imprisonment which is heartrending to the viewer. "The Last Emperor" is visually stunning. The minute details are amazing. However, the story stands up high as well. Historically accurate for the most part, "The Last Emperor" is easily one of the top 10 films of the 1980s and overall an exceptional achievement in every cinematic department known to man. 5 stars out of 5.
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rbverhoef26 December 2003
'The Last Emperor' tells the story of Pu Yi, as an adult played by John Lone, the last emperor of China. He was three years old when he first sat down on the Dragon Throne. He didn't know anything. The movie tells his story from that moment in flashbacks. We also get to see Pu Yi when the Chinese Communists have the power and he is imprisoned. Because people have taken care of him the rest of his life, from three years old to the moments inside the prison, it still feels he knows nothing.

To tell you about the life of Pu Yi would be a mistake. You have to see this movie to learn more about it. The strange thing is that Pu Yi can not do and decide much for himself. He is a hero of a movie where he is controlled by rules and other people. That is one of the reasons not many real things happen. We see the emperor grow up, we see him take an empress and a concubine, and then he has to leave the Forbidden City because the enemy is at the gate.

The impressive thing here are the locations and the costumes. Everything looks fabulous and it is not a surprise to find out that the movie was shot on location. With all the extras in those beautiful costumes there are a lot of very impressive scenes. May be the movie is a bit too long for some, it didn't really bother me. Director Bernardo Bertolucci has made a terrific movie.
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A Unique Film
loza-111 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a unique film because it is a unique story. Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (also known as Henry Pu Yi) was the last emperor of China, who spent most of his early life as a puppet of others. He was then re-educated into an ordinary citizen (He worked as a gardener) in the People's Republic of China. The exciting thing from our point of view is that Henry Pu Yi wrote an autobiography ("From Emperor to Citizen"), and it is largely on this book that the film is based.

The colourful pageantry in this film is superb - utterly unforgettable. Unfortunately the characterisation is not so well thought out. Only as the cheerful gardener does Pu Yi become anything approaching real - which may be the truth anyway. Otherwise the film becomes a series of historical events, which could well bamboozle anyone who does not know their history, since it is often not quite clear what is actually going on. Having said this, the tragedy of Pu Yi's life - and it was mostly tragedy - comes through well. As well as the end, that although stripped of title, riches, wife, etc, Pu Yi the gardener, the citizen of Red China, is now a free man, comes through well, too.

One can find faults with this film - or to be more exact, what one would think are faults - but to list these would prove nothing. This film treads new ground. It is difficult to make, with three actors playing the same person. You have to watch this film, because it will improve the way you view other people, and you will see the tragedy of monarchy: that the monarch himself becomes little more than a specimen in a zoo - rather like the cricket kept in the jar underneath the throne. It will also whet your appetite to read "From Emperor to Citizen" which contains much information that the film could not show.
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And the moral of the story is .......
al_gd4 September 2002
This to me was a very powerful movie, I loved the story, and the final outcome was how it should be. Somehow we believe that Kings, Queens, Emperors etc are entitled to their power, that somehow they deserve it. This is how this emperor saw himself, he believed he was better, and above the average person, his sense of entitlement and view of reality was so perverted, that he did everything possible to retain and regain his position in life. However from the day he entered the palace he was a pawn, powerless to act, yet he never sees this. Maybe we don't all understand his re-education, but this is what makes the ending so great. There is a fantastic moral to this story. A beautiful story, sad, moving, and somehow, strangely uplifting. Highly recommended. 9/10
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An Oriental paradise that is wonderfully mastered to the screen.
emm21 March 1999
I guess I'm the only one who watched this from a worn out-of-print VHS copy. No matter what the quality, THE LAST EMPEROR is arguably among the best of the foreign pictures. The sights and sounds of The Forbidden City are sharp and beautifully screened right on with the provocative events that unfold the coming-of-age life of Pu Yi. It has plentiful moments including his romantic affairs with concubines and how he learns the way of the world as a child. His chronicle of a young emperor boy paints a colorful picture for the first half, only leading to more conflicting matters later, which is the most exciting part. Don't expect to see heads getting chopped off, like I thought would happen (unless you have the longer DVD version), but the intensity of the talk surrounding it sounds horrifying and true. Nevertheless, the dialogue is clearly mystical. Every minute is a feel-good breeze through crafty cinematic art, but it ends too fast, and the narration from Pu Yi in his prison term could use a lot more detailing. Maybe I'll stick around longer and wait to see the Director's Cut which has more. Definitely a winning treat not to be missed for foreign movie lovers and collectors of premium filmfare.
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Excellent, if not emotionally confusing, film.
Giant Squid28 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I'd like to comment on the "The Last Emperor" from a somewhat oblique angle compared to the usual reviews a film gets.

For starters, it is my opinion that this was a really good film to watch. It also spurred me into researching a little more Chinese, as well as Japanese, history. I think I should note here, there are some great books to research on the life of Pu Yi. There is in fact a book; "Twilight In The Forbidden City" by Reginald F. Johnston as well as "From Emperor to Citizen" an autobiography by Pu Yi himself. I'll list some titles and where to find them at the end of my "comment".

This "oblique" angle that I'd like to take is on the emotional impact of the film.

While I found the film informative and well made, I also found it conveyed an emotional emptiness, and maybe even sadness. I was distraught at the end of the film. In short: It made me feel that here is a man who was somebody, and at the end of his life he has nothing. He lost everything he ever had, and died alone.

While everyone may get something different from the film, they undoubtedly will find similarities with other viewers as well. I almost wish some creative license were taken to end the film on a happier note.

Although, I found it sad, solemn, and many times it made me feel just empty like I wasn't sure what to feel but I wanted anything to fill the emptiness, I also found it compelling. Not many other films have so made me want to learn more about the history, and people in a film.

That's my review. And as a final note: while my review may have had a somewhat down tone to it and may have even left some people feeling like the review is a bit empty or unfinished, I also hope it compelled people to think a little differently about "The Last Emperor" and maybe even spur some of you to do a little of your own research on the people and places in the film.


Twilight In The Forbidden City by Reginald F. Johnston ISBN: 0848813901

From Emperor To Citizen by Pu Yi ISBN: 7119007726

The Last Emperor by Arnold C. Brackman ISBN: 0881847003

The Last Emperor by Edward Behr ISBN: 0553344749

The Puppet Emperor: The Life of Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China by Brian Power ISBN: 0876634587
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Long and well worth every moment
brower812 May 2003
The last Emperor of China, Pu Yi, we now understand, was never anything more than a puppet. He wielded absolute power within his real realm -- a gilded cage of a palace -- but could never shape events except for tragedy to himself or to others.

We see his life as one unlikely person, the one person that one would have most expect to have been insulated, in a gigantic tragedy -- that of China between the chaotic beginning of what might have been a long reign and the destructive Cultural Revolution of Mao, with coups, warlord rule, World War II, and the Marxist Revolution culminating in the rise of Mao. One recognizes that the pathologies of imperial China never truly died, but merely took new forms in the cult of the Leader. That the scenery is beautiful and hedonism among elites is rife hardly conceals the fact that China was a political Hell.

Pu Yi, once the Emperor of the great (but decrepit) Chinese Empire, becomes Emperor of the Forbidden Palace in 1912 before he is expelled in one of many violent revolutions (this one in 1925) in China. We see him doing a few things right, like reforming the Palace bureaucracy from a den of thieves into something honorable. He gets a superb adviser in Reginald Johnston, who gave him the confidence to be a political figure -- even a good one -- in the happiest time of his life. Johnston leaves as Pu Yi is expelled from the Palace, and eventually falls under the spell of the Japanese, who rip Manchuria from China and find someone willing to rule it in an enlightened manner -- himself. The Prime Minister of his choosing is killed, and Pu Yi becomes a puppet ruler of a contemptible entity. It's just like the old days, only the intriguers are worse -- far worse. The decrepitude of the system sets in at the first moment. As Emperor he can only accede to what his Japanese overlords demand.

At the end of the war he is arrested by the Soviets because he dallies too long on unfinished business -- and after the 1949 Revolution he is sent back to China as a war criminal and traitor. Rather than being executed (as one might expect) he is sent to prison as a convict.

As a prisoner he is incarcerated with some of his former underlings -- war criminals of the Manchukuo puppet state -- who have learned to ape the ideology of their captors, and he runs afoul of those 'fellow' inmates. Ex-fascists make the most fervent communists. All in all, he simplifies and becomes a very ordinary man in a society that punished anyone who challenged anything that the regime didn't want people to challenge.

Pure puppet? Not quite. A dupe who never left when the going was good -- if the going was ever good -- and that is exactly what the Imperial role made him. In childhood the ruler of the greatest empire (in population size, that is) on Earth -- in a premature old age, a cipher. Then again, what else did most Chinese ever become in China during the first two thirds of the 20th century become -- ciphers, old before their time, wrecks of no fault of their own, just to survive.
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The Life Of China's Last Emperor
sddavis6328 August 2010
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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Good but sometimes confusing December 2001
I really enjoyed this film. It was beautiful and insightful and I left with an overwhelming sense of awe. However, not having known much about early 20th century Chinese history, there were several times when I would get totally and completely lost. I think it would have been a much more enjoyable film if I didn't have to spend so much of my time trying to figure out what just happened. Just a little explanation could go a long way (or even a brief title display).

Of course, those comment apply to the shorter version of the film. After browsing IMDB I find that there is a directors cut that is longer. I would like to see that version instead of the short one.
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A film like this comes along in 10,000 years
s025014324 November 1999
Bernardo Bertolucci left a remarkable impression on the Academy with The Last Emperor, taking away nine oscars including one for best film and best director. This film will leave a lasting impression on those who view it as well. Last Emperor provides a strong message through its main character Pu-Yi. Although the film bases its story on the true life accounts of the last emperor of China, Last Emperor shows that life can deal one undesirable circumstances and the way one reacts and handles these circumstances determine one's place in history. Bertolucci's powerful method of storytelling also further enhances the greatness of Last Emperor. The motif of pursuing a forbidden love that remains out of reach presents a tearful message. Who cannot get misty eyed seeing an eight year old Pu-Yi chasing after his beloved nanny or an almost exact similar scene when a much older Pu-Yi chases his insane first wife? Last Emperor will move even the most adamant viewer. "To his majesty, the emperor... Ten thousand years!"
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A good film minus the kindly portrayal of the Communist Chinese
calvinnme21 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film is one of only three total Best Picture winners that won every one of the awards for which it was nominated, but strangely enough it received no nominations for acting. I found this odd, since I thought that one of the film's finer points were its performances.

In this film, Pu-Yi grows to a man who was deposed as the last emperor of China while still a child, and thus he wanders from country to country as a young man who is wealthy but without purpose. Thus, never really coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer king, he jumps at the chance to sell himself out as a puppet to the Japanese when they offer him the opportunity to rule at least part of China again. As Emperor of Manchukuo, Pu-Yi is blind to the barbarous acts and experiments that the Japanese perform upon his subjects, blind to the fact that his wife has an affair with a servant to produce a royal heir, and most of all, blind to his role as puppet in the Japanese scheme for world domination. Not until the end of World War II does he seem to even have an inkling of what has been going on.

Now for the part of the movie to which I really object. Although it is compelling to see Pu-Yi slowly owe up to his responsibility for what happened in China during the Japanese occupation and come to terms with the fact that he is, after all, just a man like any other man, I strongly object to the Maoists as the good-guys in this quest for redemption. The Communist Chinese did the same type of reindoctrination on many other people - among them Christian missionaries, Buddhist monks, and believers in democracy and a free press - anyone who simply got in their way and needed their world view "readjusted". On top of that, how the Communists reindoctrinate people in this film is G-rated compared to what really went on in such camps. For details, consult the novel "1984". These points are completely whitewashed. Without the flaw of the portrayal of the Communist Chinese as the patient and kindly savers of lost souls this would have pretty much been a perfect film.
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Heaven's Mandate
bkoganbing18 May 2008
Back when I was a university student studying a course in the Far East we learned the term 'Heaven's Mandate'. It was said that when one dynasty overthrew another, the mandate from powers above to rule China had been lost and a new mandate was given to the winners. It was a self fulfilling idea because if the Mings went out and the Manchus went in it was because the Manchus now had the Mandate. The Last Emperor is the story of Young emperor Pu Yi who was the last Manchu Emperor, crowned at the age of 3 in 1908 and removed in 1911 during the revolution. Pu Yi spent half the rest of his life trying to gain that back and the other half trying to roll with the punches for making some very bad choices in trying for the former. By that time if you want to extend the idea, the mandate now fell to Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communists. Still very few people had as colorful, as tumultuous, and as epic a life as Pu Yi as portrayed by Chinese actor John Lone. Whatever else Pu Yi was, he was a survivor and maybe if he hasn't got Heaven's mandate any more, he's at least got a heavenly place. From 1911 until he was kicked out, the young Emperor was still permitted to run a kind of fairyland kingdom in the Forbidden City area of Peking which was the exclusive domain of the Chinese Emperors for centuries. During that time he had an English tutor in Peter O'Toole, the one major occidental player in The Last Emperor. The relationship here is similar to the one shown in Seven Years In Tibet between Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer and the young Dalai Lama. Here though the emphasis is on the pupil not the tutor. The Last Emperor is an epic international achievement, not possible during the years of Mao Tse-tung's rule. As a film it received great international respect winning nine Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Bernardo Bertolucci. That's quite a mandate in and of itself. Though the film is more than two and half hours long I guarantee your interest will not flag. And it really is worth it to see at the very end the elderly Emperor's meeting with the new Red Guards of Mao's Cultural Revolution and that bit of symbolism with the cricket. Absolutely priceless, just as the film is.
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Lush Life
tedg2 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

These films always tear me. This is worth watching because it is so lush. The camera is rich in every element: framing, lighting, color, movement, composition are all almost elaborately designed. The effect is overwhelming lushness. The place looks far better here than it ever did in real life. In fact, the container is so incredibly rich, one wonders why the contents are so thin.

And the reason I think is simply Italian filmmaking sensibilities. Beautiful is enough. The actors themselves are beautiful, and the idea of the historical sweep has a sort of beauty. But the actual story makes one wonder what was the point. Did anyone really care about it? The same thing can be said of `Kundun,' and that's clearly an artifact of Italian storytelling. The result is beautifully boring.

When O'Toole is on stage. our eyes rest a bit and our souls get engaged. But he is already emaciated and a walking tragedy of waste, his own tragedy more hypnotizing in his brief moments than all the other character movements combined.

(Quite possibly, the story is weaker here than in most Bertolucci films because of Chinese sensitivities. Why was the ten years in the prison camp not shown as the grueling hard labor it was? Why was the treachery of Mao not mentioned.)

There's some slight self-reference when the `invasion' occurs: the invaders bring still and movie cameras.

There's one scene that has stuck in my mind for 15 years, when Lone is in bed with his two very lovely wives, covered with an opulent cloth sensually undulating. One of the loveliest and most memorable moments in film. You get mesmerized by the shifting, polychromatic tones and shadows. Then it turns a passionate red, which in fact is the treasure of a 4,000 year old culture evaporating.

Ted's evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching.
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Just A Big Bore, Sad To Say
ccthemovieman-116 July 2006
Wow, nine Academy Awards is pretty least until recent times when "political correctness" took over at the Oscars. This movie had nothing to do with anything PC, but it had lots in common with Academy Award winners in the last two decades - the public didn't like it. It was a bomb at the box office, and has been discontinued on DVD, as well, at last reports.

Anyway, I came into it with a feeling of optimism but wound up disappointed, too, with my look at in on VHS. However, I didn't give up, buying the DVD with an extra 54 minutes on it. I really, really wanted to like this film....but, once again, I found myself just plain bored with it all. That's the major fault with the film: it's doesn't grab you, get you involved in the story and the characters. After an hour and a half, it's "who cares?"

Too bad because the story is filmed in a fascinating place, China's "Forbidden City," and features a cast of thousands and some spectacular costuming. The Asian colors of orange, yellows, purples, reds, etc., makes it a color feast. The acting, led by John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole and others is fine, and the language is very tame. The problem is everything is too tame, and it shouldn't be with all it has going for it.
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A Biography and a Character Study
v_haritha_in19 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is the biography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (commonly known as Puyi), the titular last Chinese Emperor. It is a rare Hollywood picture about the Orient. It takes very few liberties with historical facts and covers his entire life, an impressive feat given the many events that had taken place in and during his lifetime.

He was coronated at the age of three and sent to live in the Forbidden city. It was the time when China was transitioning from Monarchy to a Republic. The new government allowed him to retain the title and he was not to leave Forbidden City. Thus began his life as a puppet placed on a seemingly high pedestal by different regimes for their own benefit.

Puyi grew up in an extremely unhealthy environment. Separated from his mother when he was a toddler he had no friends, apart from his wet nurse, to give him love and no parental figures to teach him disciple or responsibility. The eunuchs residing at the City had no authority over him and he was at liberty to abuse them with impunity.

He grows up to be a product of his circumstances. His has well-meaning plans for Forbidden City and later the people of his native Manchu but he has no idea how to implement them. Instead he becomes even more powerless. To top it all he is misogynistic and vain with a misplaced sense of entitlement. He gets no sympathy from us, the viewers even thought we have seen how we became the person that he is. We hold him responsible for his decisions and non-action.

The movie opens with the beginning of Puyi's life post-imperialness, when he was held prisoner. After his release, he becomes a commoner. His time as the Emperor are shown in flashbacks. Ostensibly, he had a better life before. But, is it really true? He now has the freedom he never had before.

This movie is as much of a character study as a historical account. What makes this aspect of it work is its strong cast. Richard Vuu, as the toddler Puyi (he gets the movie poster all for himself!), is a delight to the eye and has remarkable acting chops for someone so young. John Lone brings the many internal conflicts, flaws, weaknesses, aspirations and virtues of both young and old Puyi to life. Joan Chen is perfect as the Empress who understands the situation better than her husband but is helpless because she is a woman. Vivian Wu, as Puyi's second consort, makes the best of the limited screen time she gets. Peter O'Toole, as teenage Puyi's mentor, is good as ever. Maggie Han deserves a special mention for making the character of Eastern Jewel, a real life Japanese spy whose life story merits a movie of its own, stand out given that she has very few lines. The only weak link in the acting department is Tao Wu (15 year Puyi).

This movie does not make the mistake of treating the Orient as something exotic, something which Hollywood is often guilty of doing. The mores, traditions and beliefs of the people, place and time portrayed in the movie have been well researched and it was shot on location in the Forbidden City scenes. Together they add up to give an authentic feel to the movie. It is a movie that richly deserves its Academy Award for Best Picture.
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This Film Can Be Fascinating!
g-bodyl26 May 2014
If you can sit through this movie, especially the three and a half version of this film, I am proud of you. Not to say this movie is bad, but it's often tedious since there is really nothing here to move the plot. The film goes at such a slow pace, but however this film can be incredibly fascinating and the film is enriched with detail. As a history buff, I enjoyed this film as it was because of the historical narrative it induced.

Bernardo Bertollucci's film is about the last emperor of China before the warlord age and communist age. The film talks about how Puyi became emperor at such an young age, how he abdicated this throne, and how he ended up as a political prisoner.

The acting is really good and we needed good acting to get through a film like this. John Lone does an excellent job as the adult Puyi and really conveys his emotions very well. Peter O'Toole, one of the few Western actors here, does an excellent job as always.

Overall, The Last Emperor seems like it does not have in mind to entertain, but to teach. It's a good, fascinating film that talks about changing times and how people must adapt. I was intrigued by this film because the dynasties of China has always impressed me. Is this the film that should win Best Picture at the Oscars? Perhaps not, but this is still a good film to see despite it's tepid pacing. I rate this film 8/10.
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A coincidence
beejay9628 March 2001
While watching a video of this wonderful film, my wife and I were interrupted by a phone call from my late father's cousin in New Zealand. On telling him what we were watching, he told me that I was related (somewhat obscurely) to Reginald Johnson, the tutor in the film portrayed by Peter O'Toole and that he had read all the books written by R.J. including the one on which the film was based. Some coincidence eh? If we had not been watching this film at that particular moment, I might not have learned from 12,000 miles away, of my connection with it. I can only say that I was gobsmacked, but watching this beautiful film was a wonderful experience, an opinion shared by my wife who is not normally fond of long films. Bernie Blaikie.
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blanks29 August 2000
From the director of the misunderstood and woefully underrated Last Tango in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci comes his finest and most accomplished outing yet. Following the life of the last emperor in China, The fact that the film manages to fit an considerable amount of material into an relatively short space of time is an minor miracle, With excellent performances from John Lone as the emperor, Joan Chen as the empress and Peter o Toole as his english teacher. This is truly a work of art but what makes this particularly compelling is possibly the greatest example of cinematography to date by Italian genius Vittaro Storaro. The effect created by him is truly stunning and recreates the emperor's world perfectly, photography that hasn't quite been matched before or since by anyone. Bernardo Bertolucci directs with an sure artist's hand pacing the story and dazzling visuals to perfection. This is also an study of how noone is invulnerable and most importantly, how power corrupts.
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A fascinating film of epic proportions.
beatleslm7 May 2000
The Last Emperor is a exquisite delight for the senses and manages to tell a compelling, true story of a man who was not perfect but we are fascinated by and absolutely are riveted by the motion picture of the year of 1987. The trials and tribulations of the last emperor of China,Pu-YI, from three years old til his death in his sixties; transforms us the viewer into the world of the Chinese past. If you are a person who loves beautifully-told true stories that connect with the viewer--- whether to make you angry or cry-- this is that kind of film for you. **** stars.
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My brief review of the film
sol-10 January 2005
A well done and fascinating, but long and poorly explained biopic - compressing sixty years of history and politics into two and a half hours will be at least a bit overwhelming for a viewer who is not familiar with the topic to understand. However, in terms of art direction, costumes and acting the film is definitely fine. Lone is entirely convincing at the title person from young adulthood to old age, and O'Toole is good as his tutor. But the overarching problem with the film is that all this history is presented without much explanation… making the film a far from satisfying watch, even if one with many cinematic virtues.
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..The warlords of China..
fimimix22 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
To say that Bernardo Bertolucci aptly over-saw the creation of a masterpiece on an era of history that would definitely change the relationship of nations throughout history, forever, is putting it mildly. That he did it with such artistically factual film-making is to say his success was nearly miraculous. "Never can be made again" is one of many "users" favorite descriptions of many films. You may conclude that would be a quite accurate statement about "The Last Emperor", especially for American film-making......they had nothing to do with it.

To amass such a huge cast today would put many nations into immediate bankruptcy, much less movie-producers. Every scene is detailed to perfection; the reign of the last emperor of China wasn't that long ago, so there were unlimited sources for research. That they were made available - and especially shooting on location in The Forbidden City - with the approval of the communist government of Peking in the 1980s is even more miraculous. After centuries of the Qing emperors' reigns, for this gigantic nation to change its manner of governing boggles the mind. One would assume China would just as soon deny that one year of its history, much as Japan is only beginning to admit its Asian atrocities.

As we have seen a poverty-stricken nation become a world-power, it's frightening to realize it is an ON-GOING epic - the USA has fought two major wars against China, without putting one soldier on its soil: The Vietnam War and The Korean War, not taking into consideration the countless insurgencies to contain this giant, a major ally during The Second World War. Keep tuned, folk - the drama continues.......

I wonder if this period of history is being taught in our schools. It certainly would help students to understand that era more easily just by showing "The Last Emperor" to every class, inviting their parents also to attend for a little briefing. There must be millions who had/have no idea these incidences were happening and what catastrophic results that brief era could have hidden in the wings. The Giant is awakening, already an atomic power, with some of the world's greatest cities. "Made in China" is no longer a derision - we have seen with our own eyes how intelligent its peasants have always been; the metamorphosis into a nation which does pretty-much as it pleases was possible only because the peasants - until today - were dispensable.

Again we are shown what epics were filmed during the 1970s-80s - there are no modern-day movies that can compare to the richness of this film. The luxury therein will never be matched; it is almost unbelievable to realize Chinese royalty and its wealthy citizens lived every day of their lives with such pomp, up to modern-day history.

All of the actors who portrayed the emperor were stellar - the closing of the crimson gates at The Forbidden City and at the Japanese palace in Manchuria left no doubt this unfortunate creature was going nowhere but where other powers forced him to go. John Lone was truly robbed of an Oscar. His role clearly depicted the emperor's vulnerabilities to have no power to conduct his own destiny. As a puppet-emperor, he was totally controlled by the Japanese, then subjugated to communist cruelties in Russia, and then brain-washed into the free-but-pitiful citizen he became in his later life. John Lone's acting definitely gave us the character of totalitarian-with-compassion Pu Yi was.

Joan Chen and "the second wife" were brilliant, as was the "spy" who undid their lives. Peter O'Toole, in my opinion, was barely convincing in his role. ALL of the supporting actors/actresses were totally convincing; just the management of such masses of people is astounding. There is so much to see and learn in this movie, I cannot imagine anyone not being caught-up in it. Mark Peploe's script was perfect, the way every script should be. The panoramic cinematography a feast for the eyes - the costuming and choreography and score mesmerizing. I wondered how many people realized, during the early scenes in The Forbidden City, those gigantic headdresses were actually the ladies' hair !!!

I sincerely hope there are many other films of this caliber I have not yet seen - would make no difference where they were made. The scope of this movie demands a rating of 15-to-10.
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