Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Last Emperor

It's not easy giving a history lesson within a film. Many times they're only for those who have long enough attention spans. Those rare exceptions still marvel and teach their audiences.

In the opening moments of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, a Chinese prisoner is being bowed to by other prisoners. Mere moments later, he locks himself in a washroom and slits his wrists. Who is this man? Why does he want to kill himself, apart from being a prisoner? All of the answers and much more are to be revealed.

The man is Puyi (John Lone). Just years earlier, he was ruling China. He wasn't a popular ruler however. Because of the views of his tutor Reginald Johnston (Peter O'Toole) his own views of the country he ruled were changed drastically, much to the dismay of other leaders.

The technical aspects of The Last Emperor are gorgeous, mainly the Oscar-winning score, cinematography and costumes. But the color scheme is something that has to be mentioned. Early in Puyi's life, there are vibrant colors everywhere. It's when he gets older that life's true colors emerge, all bleak and dull.

The Last Emperor doesn't feel like a history lesson at all. It's more of a tale of a collapsing society and the man caught between it all. Bertolucci shows his audience what he can do, and it is fantastic.

My Rating: *****


  1. Even the poster is incredibly vibrant. Just reading about the opening moments you mention here had me hooked, which I imagine is exactly what a director wants/needs to do when making a film steeped in history.

  2. BTW, which version did you see? The shortened director's cut version of the film or the extended cut?


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