Reviews of The Last Emperor
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The Last Emperor is an incredibly moving Film about the young emperor of China, Puyi. It follows Puyi throughout his reign, and his entire life, and is portrayed wonderfully by the four different Actors playing him. Bernardo Bertolucci has triumphed in making nothing less than an artistic masterpiece worthy of the nine Academy Awards it received. The Film was visually stunning; I especially loved that the first half of the Film was rich in reds and silk prints, and the latter half was dull and dark, with almost no color. The costumes and make-up were absolutely incredible and it’s obvious that no expense was spared in the production. For the most part, I had no problem with this almost four hour long epic, but I was really disappointed in some major decisions that were made clearly to please the masses. I hated that the Film was English, in the first place, and I really am not fond of the flashbacks from prison- it felt Shawshanky. The ending was terribly Hollywood and a horrible way to wrap the Film up.
While the technical aspects of the film are outstanding (cinematography, art direction, costumes etc), the story itself fell flat. The running time is long but there really was not much the director could have left on the editing room. After all a whole lifetime cannot be summarized under two hours, especially not this one. The Emperor’s character was well developed and his motivations are somewhat clear, but the problem is that there are no peaks or valleys, a climax to speak of. Unconventional stories are always appreciated, however this film is just not memorable.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
The grandeur of Storaro’s compositions and the epic story magnificently told by Bertolucci never quite made up for the fact that I just plain didn’t like the main character. I imagine that it is historically accurate but there was rarely a moment where I was tracking with his motivations or his actions. I did watch the theatrical cut released by Criterion, which I am aware has many detractors, but I find it hard to believe that an extra 50 or so minutes would change enjoyment of the film. Fantastically executed, however, and well worth seeing; certainly for anyone who loves a good epic.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
I really Really wanted to like this film a lot more but the grandness that i was expecting to see was not there. The forbidden city felt smaller than a hollywood studio set and i was generally confused why all of the actors spoke with a different accent. I was also expecting a ton of vibrant colors and masterful camera work but, all in all, the cinematography was pretty bland. My last criticism is this; the second half drug on way too long. although i felt there was more interesting things going on, my interest weened.
i would still recommend this film because it is very interesting to see the dichotomy of ancient traditions and modern society clashing and basically to see how someone with power can easily take it too far.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
First, let me recommend the Director’s Cut though it is 3 hours and 20 minutes. There is so much historical and political content that I found a second viewing helpful too. The costumes, sets, cinematography, and music are all sumptuous.
The movie covers almost 60 years of Chinese history from the perspective of one person. The last emperor, Pu Yi, lived through so much history during the first half of the 20th century. I don’t know how much of the story is completely historically accurate, but the changes of the decades and major historical events seem to be presented authentically. The story reminded me at certain points of the movie and book, The Good Earth. While that story shows some of the cultural changes in Chinese history from the perspective of peasants out in the fields, this story is told mainly from within the walls of the Forbidden City or the walls of a Communist re-education camp. There is a strong imprisonment theme! The story is told in flashbacks, and I thought this device was well crafted with interesting parallels.
Pu Yi’s life is incredibly tragic and yet I found all the drama enthralling. He becomes Emperor at 3 years old and so hasn’t formed any ideas for himself. Even later in his life you can’t really say that he ever gained much experience as a leader. Earlier in China’s history this might have worked out better to have a leader start so young without much conflict, but with all the changes preparing to take place in the 20th century it is inevitable that Pu Yi would become a tragic figure. He becomes spoiled because every want and need is taken care of for him. He’s a puppet controlled by many others through his life. Early in his life China becomes a Republic and he no longer has any real power, but traditions stay the same inside the Forbidden City. Just before WWI O’Toole arrives as a Western tutor and Pu Yi begins to learn about the modern world. Eventually he tries to reform the traditions of imperial China, but he still takes a wife and a consort (a second wife). China then becomes a Communist country and some people turn against the Manchurian part of northern China. Since Manchurian is the Emperor’s heritage, he and his remaining staff are kicked out of the Forbidden City. He ends up being welcomed by Japan in the early 30’s before WWII and they feed him some misinformation. At this point he still craves the power of being Emperor and there is a lot of political intrigue as Manchuria becomes independent (but, Japan is really pulling the strings). He has relationship issues with his wife and consort, one feeling like a third wheel in the more westernized Japan and the other becoming addicted to opium. After WWII the Communist powers in China change a bit and in 1950 we catch up to the “current” events where Pu Yi and all the other imperial supporters are being re-educated. Ying gives an impressive performance and human face to the “Governor” of the camp. It is an amazing, in depth, dramatic conflict from the American audience perspective when you realize that Pu Yi was working with the Japanese, one of the Axis powers of WWII, and the Communists are trying to turn him into a comrade. Between a rock and a hard place. There’s a good portion of Americans that wouldn’t see either side of this conflict as worth cheering for. But still I found it very engaging to watch John Lone portray the struggle.
One of my favorite quotes: The Governor- “You are responsible for what you do! All your life you thought you were better than everyone else. Now you think you’re the worst of all!” There’s also a quote about how all the new generals and changes in the communist regime are just like the battling war lords of tribal society. There’s a sense that the differences between the old and young in society will lead to history repeating itself, and in fact power keeps on shifting but nothing in history really changes.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
What has taken me so long to see this film! Remember when this film first came out in 1987, I was in fifth grade and seeing the Pu Yi’s installation scene on siskel and Ebert. That scene always stuck to me for some reason. But every time that I would pass it by at the video store, My nose would crinkle and I would say yuck. Was it because of just the beauty of the sheer poster art, a three year old Pu Yi in front of his 1,500 servants in the Forbidden City.
Or Maybe I was subconsciously waiting for proper presentation Since I finally saw this film on Blu-Ray. ;)
Never The less, this film is simply wonderful. Beautiful Photography, Wonderful Story, and fine performances. I especially liked the story of Pu Yi, the boy Emperor, who wanted to change Chinese Tradition even though the people wanted to go another way, when ousted from being emporer he wants to be Emporer again so bad he would do anything. Even be tricked by the Japanese.
Fabulous film, in line with the great david lean films Like Lawrence and Bridge on the river Kwaii. I really hate to say this since this film is younger than I am but…They Don’t make them like this anymore.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.