Review of 'The Last Emperor'

last_emperor.jpg “The Last Emperor” tells the real story of Pu Yi (John Lone as an adult), the last emperor of China. As an adult “confessing” to the new communist regime Pu Yi recalls his life as emperor which began as a young child before the revolution struggling to understand his great privilege and that it does not extend to his personal freedom. Under the tutelage of Reginald 'R. J.' Johnston (Peter O'Toole) the young emperor learns not only how to speak English but also compassion and insight into his position as well as being the only source of information the emperor has about the outside world. The petulant child grows into a man struggling to survive in a dramatically changing China that now sees him as a symbol of an obsolete era.

An amazing biography of the last emperor that pulls no punches yet provides a sympathetic picture of an innocent man victim of forces beyond his control. The winner of 9 Academy Awards for the amazing production including Best Director and Best Picture, it is easy to see why. Mostly filmed within the actual home of the emperor the “Forbidden City” in Beijing, “The Last Emperor” tells the absolutely incredible story of a world most will never experience and a story that many may be unfamiliar with. Stunning visuals feature throughout that manage to capture what it must actually have been like at the time including the pageantry of the palace but also of the dramatic revolutionary period.

The film is quite long at almost three hours and does tend to drag a bit in the final hour with a somewhat quirky ending that at once startles but also perfectly summarises the life of this would-be leader. There are some disturbing, to modern eyes, scenes featuring a bit of animal cruelty and the film also includes several minutes of real footage of the atrocities committed which both shock and horrify perhaps partly because most viewers may not be aware of the real events depicted.

John Lone manages to capture the sincerity of a deposed emperor trying to recover his lost empire, managing to be emotionally distant to those that seek to get close. The younger actors that portray the emperor (Richard Vuu, Tsou Tijger, and Tao Wu) are utterly convincing as they come to grips with the exceptional life a young child was thrown into. Peter O'Toole is magnificent as the emperor's tutor, playing true to type (echoes of Lawrence of Arabia) bringing a degree of charm but ultimate honesty, never mind the picture of a quintessential Englishman. With such incredible visuals and overwhelming story these very human performances are an equal that allow us to be drawn into the enfolding drama.

An incredible looking film of an incredible event in modern China.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2020-05-01

Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Recorded Picture Company (RPC)

Year: 1987

Length: 163 minutes

Genre: Melodrama