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Drama - Historic

The Last Emperor (1987)

Duration2h 43m
RatingsUK: 15, USA: PG-13, Denmark: 15 
Source of storySaiod to be based on the autobiography of Puyi, the last emperor, published in 1964.
DirectorBernardo Bertolucci
Writers/ScriptBernardo Bertolucci, Mark Peploe,
StarringJohn Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Tool,  Jade Go, Ying Ruocheng, and a load of Chinese actors
RatingsIMDb: 7.7 by people.  Rotten Tomatoes: 89% by 72 reviewers. .

Elevator Pitch: On the death of the emperor of China, three year old Puyi is summoned by the widow to the Forbidden city with his wet nurse and his father, and is proclaimed emperor. He may never leave the complex, but a British tutor is hired, so he becomes something of an Anglophile. In young adulthood he marries and also takes a second wife and when the warlords take over, in 1924, both women accompany him to semi-exile in Tientsin. After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria the invaders make him a puppet emperor, but control his life, including killing his infant son, resulting in his wife becoming an opium addict. Later he is captured by the communists and rehabilitated, finally dying in 1967.

Content: There are a few sex scenes without nudity, and one implication of lesbianism. At times the boy continues to nuzzle the breast of the incredibly beautiful wet nurse; slightly disturbing. Some smoking of opium. There are numerous breath-taking set pieces in the Forbidden City. The film is mostly presented as flashbacks from Puyi’s time as a prisoner in a communist re-education facility where he is interrogated and admits to many crimes of which he is not guilty, particularly during his association with the Japanese, where his is gradually emasculated. He is supported at times by the camp commandant, who he sees being humiliated by the Red Guard in 1967.

A View: This is an amazing film, which despite my presence on the planet for many years, and my enthusiasm for film, I had never seen.  It was generally feted by the critics and won nine Oscars, four Golden Globes and a few BAFTAs. If I had a quibble, it was that the Cultural Revolution was depicted in a very conservative way. I was briefly in Shanghai in 1967 and it was wild. But apart from that essential viewing. I am making it a Must See.

Additional Info:  This was the first feature film to be made in the Forbidden City, although earlier there had been a documentary made.  

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels

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