With nearly an hour of extra footage, mostly in added shots and small sequences, Bernardo Bertolucci
's much-honored "The Last Emperor" is even more impressive in distributor Artisan Entertainment's "original director's cut" -- a sumptuous feast in Los Angeles at the Nuart and for cineastes in San Francisco and Chicago.
Now running 219 minutes (and shown disappointingly without an intermission), this winner of nine Academy Awards including best picture was released in 1987 and boldly portrays the life of Pu Yi with unparalleled access to the Forbidden City, where the young emperor lived for 16 years. Few movies before or since have so successfully combined the showmanship of widescreen filmmaking with rigorous, literate storytelling and delicate psychological characterizations.
Comparing the two versions is startling, with the longer captivating one in a more satisfying, big-movie fashion -- particularly in the first two hours. Along with more exquisitely beautiful scenes from Pu Yi's youth, including the entirely new story of how his beloved wet nurse (Jade Go
) came to the Forbidden City, the present version has more details of the lead's harsh transformation through imprisonment and interrogation, including his complex relationship with the prison governor (Ying Ruocheng).
While the cutting between the adult Pu Yi (John Lone
) as a war criminal and his coming of age in the turbulent early years of this century is the same in both editions, this preferred length allows one to fully digest the flavors and themes of Bertolucci and Mark Peploe
's Oscar-winning screenplay. Historical but dramatic and highlighted by luminous performances (Peter O'Toole, Joan Chen
) and breathtaking crowd scenes, "The Last Emperor" is a masterpiece with a few reservations that are not dismissed in either case.
The interrogators themselves hurry up the story by having Pu Yi move on to his involvement with the Japanese in the 1930s and World War II. The provocative Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han
) still shows up out of the blue to create a new threesome for the playboy emperor in exile, and the Cultural Revolution, near the ironic conclusion, is not as well-explained as other eras portrayed.
Also winning Academy Awards for direction, editing, art direction, cinematography, costume design, scoring and sound, "The Last Emperor" is without question a tremendously impressive work of entertainment and art that soars on the big screen and makes a handsome home-viewing collector's item.
THE LAST EMPEROR ORIGINAL DIRECTOR'S CUT
In association with Recorded Picture Co. Hemdale Film Corp.
A Jeremy Thomas production
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Screenwriters: Mark Peploe
, Bernardo Bertolucci
Director of photography: Vittorio Storaro
Production designer: Ferdinando Scarfiotti
Editor: Gabriella Cristiani
Costume designer: James Acheson
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
, David Byrne, Cong Su
Pu Yi (adult): John Lone
Wan Jung: Joan Chen
Reginald Johnston: Peter O'Toole
The Governor: Ying Ruocheng
Chen Pao Shen: Victor Wong
Eastern Jewel: Maggie Han
Ar Mo: Jade Go
Running time -- 219 minutes
No MPAA rating