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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~
"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.
'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.
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
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:)
Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" is a monumental, perfect film,
and stands as one of the great artistic achievements in any artistic
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.
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
adminstration. Bertolucci successfully shows us a young man who while
understandably spoilt by many luxuries of monarchy, is in actuality a
hearted, independent thinker (not doer) who is passionate about his
(Manchuria) and has a ravenous desire for experiencing life in the outside
world. His caged lifestyle in the Forbidden City (Beijing) is definitely
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
ordinary man (we know this from the beginning, however flashbacks explain
his situation at the start). However, it is not the desired lifestyle
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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd like to comment on the "The Last Emperor" from a somewhat oblique
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
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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