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The Last Emperor (1987)

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The story of the final Emperor of China.

Writers:

Mark Peploe (screenplay), Bernardo Bertolucci (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Popularity
4,487 ( 649)
Won 9 Oscars. Another 49 wins & 17 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
John Lone ... Pu Yi - Adult
Joan Chen ... Wan Jung
Peter O'Toole ... Reginald 'R. J.' Johnston
Ruocheng Ying Ruocheng Ying ... The Governor (as Ying Ruocheng)
Victor Wong ... Chen Pao Shen
Dennis Dun ... Big Li
Ryuichi Sakamoto ... Amakasu (as Ryûichi Sakamoto)
Maggie Han ... Eastern Jewel
Ric Young ... Interrogator
Vivian Wu ... Wen Hsiu (as Wu Jun Mei)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa ... Chang (as Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa)
Jade Go Jade Go ... Ar Mo
Fumihiko Ikeda Fumihiko Ikeda ... Yoshioka
Richard Vuu ... Pu Yi - 3 Years
Tsou Tijger Tsou Tijger ... Pu Yi - 8 Years (as Tijger Tsou)
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Storyline

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 Jwelch5742

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

He was the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, the absolute monarch of China. He was born to rule a world of ancient tradition. Nothing prepared him for our world of change. See more »


Certificate:

PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK | Italy | China | France

Language:

English | Mandarin | Japanese

Release Date:

15 April 1988 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Last Emperor See more »

Filming Locations:

Beijing Studios, Beijing, China See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

£23,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$149,460, 20 November 1987

Gross USA:

$43,984,230
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (television) | (director's cut)

Sound Mix:

Dolby (35 mm prints)| 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to director of photography Vittorio Storaro in Visions of Light (1992), he used the phases of light to represent different stages of the emperor's life. Red, the color of the blood that starts the flashback and the opening doors it cuts to, represents birth. Orange is the warm color of his family and the forbidden city. Yellow is the color of the emperor's identity and the sun. Green, the color of the tutor's bike and hat, represents knowledge. The forbidden city only has the first three colors because it is a limited portion of reality. See more »

Goofs

The emperor was not in the Forbidden City to witness the expulsion of the eunuchs. This action was carefully planned with few people knowing, since the emperor could trust very few of his intimates. The order to remove the eunuchs was received in the City while the emperor was visiting at a friend's home. Also, not all of the eunuch's were dismissed, as the empress dowager (the wife of the late emperor) begged Pu Yi to allow a few of her personal servants to remain. See more »

Quotes

Reginald Fleming 'R.J.' Johnston: Your mouse is escaping!
See more »

Alternate Versions

The theatrical version runs 163 minutes. A 218 minute version was released in the US in 1998 under the mistaken title of the "Director's Cut". It was known by this erroneous title until the 2008 Criterion DVD and Blu-ray Disc came out. Bertolucci and DP Vittorio Storaro made it clear while working on the DVD and BD that the shorter theatrical version is without doubt the director's cut. The 218 minute version was an early cut meant only to be aired as a four-part television mini-series by the Italian television network that funded the film. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Honest Game Trailers: XCOM (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Kaiser Walzer (Emperor Waltz) op. 437
(1889)
Written by Johann Strauss (as Johann Strauss)
Performed by Berliner Philharmoniker (as The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra)
Conducted by Herbert von Karajan
with kind permission of Polydor International GmbH
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Long and well worth every moment
12 May 2003 | by brower8See all my reviews

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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