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3. The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci (1987) - Score: 10



In addition to covering Chinese history, the film also captures the imperialistic and aggressive spirit of Japan during the time preceding World War II. They used Pu Yi as a means to govern Manchuria (called Manchuko under Japanese rule) and showed the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the time.


The Last Emperor is the definitive film about Eastern history and culture.


Film Score:
Film Quality: 4
Historical Significance: 2
Historical Accuracy: 2
Originality: 2
Total Score: 10
An epic that spands over 60 years. Technically it is a splendid film, but storywise it didn't have that emotional impact.

***.5/****
Aisin Gioro Pu Yi, Also Know as Henry Pu Yi, was the last emperor of China. Thrust into the most powerful seat at age 3 by the dying Dowager Cixi, Pu Yi's life is about helplessness, claustrophobia and solitude. The underlying paradox of the Emperor being powerless in his empire is deeply ironic and ultimately saddening.

If there is anything that can catch your eyes it's certainly the opulent and grandiose cinematography of the Forbidden City, with its unique architecture and oriental charm. The rich costumes also add to the certain beauty of the film. The story of the puppet emperor Pu Yi, whose life was never in his hands, plays out poignantly. Everything about Pu Yi is passive- he does not initiate anything, but rather it is the circumstances that push him. Seperated with his birth mother at a young age, Pu Yi is cocooned and raised in a very artificial environment, a prisoner of the forbidden city. In a particularly memorble scene, which is later replicated with an older Pu Yi, a young Pu Yi with a bicycle tries to leave the Forbidden City, only to be stopped by the guards. The sense of helplessness in spite of his status resonated with me, and in part with a sense of dread that i go on with my life, because my life, being conscripted in the army was not made with my own free will. It was under duress, by legislation that i was forced to be a conscript, and thus i emphatise with Pu Yi's feeling of having no contol over your life, to be a prisoner in the Forbidden City, or in my case a prisoner in my barracks.

But i digress, the Last Emperor paints a paradoxical and trapped man, and explores the idea of how one life could have so much symbolic value. Peter O'toole as PuYi's mentor Reginald is a memorable role and is ironically probably Pu Yi's only true friend; imagine that- the Manchurian CHinese Emperor's only true friend an English diplomat cum tutor. The Director skillfully interweaves the present with the past, intercutting Pu Yi's growing up with scenes of Pu Yi's communist indoctrination at a reformation camp. Even in his twilight, stripped of his symbolic position, he is used as a pawn in communist china, an example of one reformed as he is brainwashed in the camp. The Last scenes of Pu Yi returning to the Forbidden City as a civillian, old, wizened and no longer having the Mandate of Heaven, is deeply memorable.

There are nonetheless flaws. The role of the many women in Pu Yi's life is handled poorly with them getting a subsidiary role that reduces them to two dimensional characters, when they could have been developed with far greater depth. It also lacks an emotional omph to really make you like the film as its characters including the passive Pu Yi, fail to really draw us. While we certainly empathise for the antihero, the potrayal of Pu Yi by different actors through the years of growing up fail to give an emotional attachment, especially since the scenes of each age group is simply not enough. Its like we get maybe 3 mins of Pu Yi at age 3, 10 mins of him at age 7, 15mins of him at age 20 such that it fails to establish an emotional connection with him, unlike say, Gandhi, where Ben Kingsley's powerful portrayal of Gandhi is onscreen 90% of the time and thus successfully moulds a character that the audience identifies with and cheers on. But with Pu Yi, that emotional rapport is sorely lacking, not least contributed by his aloof and sheltered demeanor,

But that is merely a quibble i have with the Last Emperor. Make no mistakes, it is certainly worthy of the 9 Oscars bestowed to it, and frankly i wanted to give it a 7.5/10 :fresh: rating, but there are no half points in the rating system unfortunately. Maybe it was personal bias that made me less impressed with The Last Emperor, given that the extravagant sets and constumes failed to dazzle me as much since i was already exposed to such period costumes in my youth from watching Chinese serials and films from Hongkong that the visual impact is lessened. But still the sad and ironic life of Pu Yi is a powerful story that is a constant reminder not to take the freedom and choice in your life for granted. For some people, the never get to make a single independant decision from cradle to grave, and that is truly a tragedy. A 1987 Oscar Best Picture winner that is highly reccommended.



Films between May 21, 2004 - May 24, 2004.
Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)

Waiting for the idiot grandfather to come around in this film was more an act of endurance than an unfolding of drama. I've seen this story before, and Whale Rider offers little reason for me to have engaged with it again.


The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)

My memory of this (I nodded off for about a 15-minute span in the middle) is so fuzzy is probably not fair for me to rate it. But I will anyway. Ha.


The Widow of Saint-Pierre (Patrice Leconte, 2000)

Appallingly self-congratulatory and self-righteous, The Widow of Saint-Pierre uses capital punishment as a mere prop toward examining a love based on mutual idiocy.


Red Dawn (John Milius, 1984)

Red Dawn, on the other hand, is too easily dismissed as Cold War right-wing propaganda. It is, at times, hammy, and its emphasis on action at the expense of character development is to its detriment, but propaganda it ain't. The conversations between the Cuban colonel and the Russian general about "winning hearts and minds" have an eerie, familiar ring, and the American guerillas are portrayed with more nuance than one might expect.


Plus, the opening sequence is supercool.
:o Yawn.zzzzzzzzzz.......... That is probably what you will do for the 4 hours you're wasting on this movie. But hey, you could catch up on your sleep. It starts off a colourful movie. It shows realistic depictions of China way back then. The music is absolutely beautiful, and everything has the makings of an epic. Then the young emperor's brother comes for a visit. Your opinion about this movie turns around. You do not care about his brother nor do they convince you to care about him. His mother maybe, but not his brother. After that it has about 4 good 2-minute each moments. So that's about 1 hour,including the beginning, that you enjoy. 1 hour, out of 4. Pointless scenes are aplenty(the emporer's wife eats flowers?),and when you wake up, near the end,(I'm not saying I slept through it,but it was a miracle how I didn't),they take about 50 more minutes showing him gardening and then end it abruptly. This should have won cinematography, art direction, and original score. That's it. This shouldn't have even been nominated for anything else. But the academy gave it nine, including best picture! What were they smoking that night?
Comments pending.
No recordaba bien esta pelicula y despues de estar en china, vivir con una china y estar en Asia y observar todos los problemas que Japon tiene con los otros paises , pues la verdad que me convenia recuperarla...

La pelicula es un poco larga pero avanza sin complicaciones, no se hace pesada y muestra el fin de los emperadores en china...

Lo mejor que tiene esta pelicula es demostrar que es mas facil ser emperador que ser libre....

Pu Yi fue siempre un pelele....primero dependio los chinos y despues de los japoneses que usaron y abusaron de el. Muy triste!

Como sucede en la actualidad, nos hipotecamos nuestra libertad y sin pensarlo nos convertimos en esclavos del trabajo (contentos, pero esclavos al fin y al cabo)....

Como decia Lady M., nos hemos vuelto locos...siempre queremos tener tiempo libre para hacer lo que nos gusta, siempre buscamos tener mas tiempo y trabajamos como locos para conseguir ese tiempo...estamos comprando el tiempo y si encima anyadimos a la ecuacion las famosas hipotecas "a 30 anyos" para comprar un piso...entonces estamos obligandonos a trabajar como esclavos durante todo este tiempo (que es mucho, ni siquiera en espanya se puede cumplir mas tiempo de ese en la carcel :( ) para tener un espacio (que cada vez es mas reducido) dentro de la sociedad...

De verdad estais dispuestos a cambiar 30 anyos de vida por 80 metros cuadrados? mmmmm....no me convence....

LO MEJOR : la fotografia es muy buena. La historia esta un poco alterada para hacerla mas comercial pero todo lo que cuentan es cierto (incluso las malas artes japonesas)

LO PEOR : podrian haber contado un poco mas sobre los problemas posteriores a la guerra mundial. LA pelicula esta bien pero tampoco es inolvidable....tiene aroma de oscar pero 9 son demasiados...
WHAT A MARVELOUS EPIC. VERY LONG, BUT YOU DON'T NOTICE THE EXTREME LENGTH, BECAUSE THE VIEWER IS IN SUCH AWE OF THE SPECTACULAR SETS, COSTUMES, ACTING, DIRECTION AND CUNEMATOGRAPHY. BERNARDO BERTULUCCI KNOWS HOW TO TELL A GOOD STORY. BRILLIANT IN ALL AREAS, ONE OF THE BEST PRODUCED FILMS OF ALL TIME. ALWAYS FASCINATING, NEVER BORING.


Likewise, the predicament Puyi is in is certainly interesting, though the beginning dragged a bit; there's too much time spent on the period which is of the least interest. Where's the drama in a gilded cage, after all, when the prisoner is too young to notice the bars?

It's only as he grows older that the movie picks up steam....though trust me when I say it never becomes fast-paced. After yet another warlord coup d'etat, Puyi is ejected from the Forbidden City and sent into exile at Tientsin. For the first time in his life, he has the freedom to choose what he will do and where he will go; he chooses to go to the Japanese embassy, where he quickly becomes a puppet again.

The Imperial Japanese Army launches an invasion of Manchuria, and after a quick victory renames it Manchukuo, offering the throne of the new country to Puyi. He accepts, though all around him accuse of betraying his country; he hopes to use the Japanese just as they hope to use him, and believes in his hereditary right to rule Manchuria.

The result is predictable. In one of the best scenes of the movie, he is presented with an Imperial order awaiting his signature by his Japanese 'advisors', appointing a prime minister he has never met. He sets the order aside and instead begins a speech on the friendship of Japan and Manchukuo, about how Manchukuo and Japan must work together on the basis of equality...with his tone becoming more and more desperate as his 'advisors' begin to contemptuously storm out one by one, until he feebly ends his speech in an empty room. He has become a meaningless figurehead for a brutal foreign empire, and through no one's fault but his own.

By the closing act of the film, he has been captured by the Soviets, handed over to the Chinese, and finally placed in the prison the movie began with to learn about the 'new China' under Mao. I had to wonder at times just how reliable this part of the film was, given how much the film owed to the cooperation of the Chinese government; his experience is certainly grim and ugly, but not particularly brutal, and the effect is to show him gradually gaining peace in his new role as a lowly gardener. At the very least they don't flinch away from the Cultural Revolution, as Puyi encounters his sympathetic old warden being humiliated in the streets by overzealous students waving red flags and chanting political songs.

Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of the film is very effective. The only real drawback is that the pacing feels off; there are many scenes which could have been cut with little loss, and as a whole it seems to be a bit overlong. At some points, the soundtrack was a bit intrusive, but usually I didn't even notice it.

If you haven't seen it, it's worth a rental.