The Last Emperor (1987)



Critic Consensus: While decidedly imperfect, Bernardo Bertolucci's epic is still a feast for the eyes.

Movie Info

The Last Emperor is the true story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Chinese Ching Dynasty. Told in flashback, the film covers the years 1908 to 1967. We first see the three-year-old Pu Yi being installed in the Forbidden City by ruthless, dying dowager Empress Tzu-Hsui (Lisa Lu). Though he'd prefer to lark about like other boys, the infant emperor is cossetted and cajoled into accepting the responsibilities and privileges of his office. In 1912, the young emperor (Tijer Tsou) forced … More

Rating: PG-13 (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Mark Peploe
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 20, 2001
Columbia Pictures


as Pu Yi as an Adult

as Wan Jung "Elizabeth"

as Reginald Johnston "R...

as The Governor

as Chen Pao Shen

as Big Li

as Masahiko Amakasu

as Eastern Jewel

as Interrogator

as Ar Mo

as Pu Yi Age 8

as Pu Chieh

as Pu Chieh Age 7

as Pu Chieh Age 14

as Gen. Yuan Shikai

as Prisoner

as Lady of the Pen

as Scarface

as Li Shu Xian

as Empress Wan Rung

as Emperor Hirohito

as Prince Chun

as Englishman

as Chang Ching Hui's se...

as Old Tutor

as Li Yu Qin

as Lord Chamberlain

as Wen Hsiu

as Pu Yi (3 years)

as Pu Yi (15 years)

as Tzu Hsui The Empress...

as Gen. Ishikari

as Japanese Translator

as Hunchback

as Lady Aisin-Gioro

as Old Doctor

as First High Consort

as Grey Eyes

as Sleeping Old Tutor

as Hsiao Hsiu

as Wen Hsiu (12 years)

as Lady of the Book

as Republican Officer

as Captain of Feng's Ar...

as Minister of Trade

as Chang Chinghui

as Lady Hiro Saga

as Tough Warder

as Second Warder

as Party Boss

as Japanese Doctor

as Englishman

as Capital of Imperial ...
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Critic Reviews for The Last Emperor

All Critics (59) | Top Critics (14)

As pure spectacle, "The Last Emperor" is a spellbinding peek behind the gate of a lost world.

Full Review… | February 17, 2015
New York Daily News
Top Critic

It is a hesitant, conservative approach that yields great elegance and a rhythm that carries the viewer along. Yet the film is haunted by a sense of opportunities not taken, of an artist deliberately reining in his artistry.

Full Review… | January 7, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

If there is such a thing as voluptuous detachment, Bertolucci and John Lone have found it. Lone's achievement in his absorbing account of Pu Yi is to place him at a distance and yet make his plight totally involving.

Full Review… | January 7, 2014
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

There's probably a truly great movie in the story of Pu Yi, but The Last Emperor is not that movie. Still, what director Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) has accomplished here is both ambitious and impressive.

Full Review… | January 7, 2014
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic

As coolly lavish an epic as we may ever see.

Full Review… | February 22, 2013
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

The expanse of time is saturated with an expanse of visual beauty that feels absolutely right for the story.

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Last Emperor


Endearing. Beautiful. Thoroughly poignant. Why? The music is a wonder, the visuals and production values meaningfully recreated, the atmosphere is wholly emotionally captivating and extremely fascinating, and the drama wonderfully directed. There are a few flaws to be found, admittedly, but as whole, it triumphs in splendor.

Adriel Lim
Adriel Lim

Super Reviewer


Its an okay movie, i can see why it won best picture as it is visually stunning and the costume and makeup artists did a brilliant job! Its interesting to a point about the last emperor however it just failed to engage me, i think over 3.5hours is asking a lot of the audience but to have a movie that is moving at a glacial pace and doesnt have any action and quite frankly isnt the most dramatic movie ive seen before it just left me thinking , 'well ill never get those three hours of my life back'
I think a very overrated movie, and not engaging enough for me to rate this movie any higher!

Film Crazy

Super Reviewer

A sweeping historical epic like no other. I sometimes forget how amazing films like this are, especially when they are made in the pre-digital era when you couldn't fake stuff, so you had no choice but to hire 19,000 extras and that sort of thing.

Okay, that little diversion aside, this is a tremendous and wonderful film chronicling the life of Pu Yi, the last emporor of China before the tumultuous events that led to experiments with being a republic then a communist state. Covering the years of 1908-1967, this film, despite being a bio pic, is really a great glimpse at the history of a country during some very turbulent but fascinating times. In a way it's like a serious Forrest Gump sort of thing, though I don't mean to trivialize this by making that comparison.

I've watched both the original and extended "director's cut" (though Bertolucci maintains that the theatrical cut is his prefered version and that the extended cut was just something he assembled for Italian TV) and I think they are both brilliant films. I think I might like the original more though. The extended cut is an hour longer, making the film clock in at 3 hours, 38 minutes, but some of the added material, like extended backstory are pretty good. The bulk of the additions though, are more political machinations and stuff involving Pu Yi in pre-WWII Manchuria. If you are into socio-political issues during this time and place, then the extended cut will probably please you. If not, then you might just want to stick with the original cut.

Regardless of the version, this is a gorgeous film filled with excellent cinematography, beautiful costumes wonderful music (the main title theme will forever be stick in my head), and just great artistry. This is an art film that is both mindblowing because of the technique and storytelling, and the story itself. Pu Yi's life was rather tragic, and not just because of the Shakespearean way his empire crumbled around him. At no time did he ever truly have any real power, and it wasn't until most of his life was over that he was finally living without being told what to do. The scenes of his "re-education" are more painful because for him, it wasn't "re" but just regular education. Yet, from a symbolic standpoint, and for the first few years of his life (before the Chinese Revolution), yeah, he was something special.

I know that the Chinese government has a certain reputation about them when it comes to portrayals of the country and its history, so it made me happy to know that when Bertolucci approached them with two projects he wanted to shoot in China, this was the one they chose. It's like they knew that telling this story was important, especially because all parts of a country's history deserve to be known to the masses. Plus, this film made history by getting unprecedented access to film all over the Forbidden City, and the results are just great.

Well, I've gushed a lot, but I don't thnk this film is perfect. It is long, and sometimes boring, but I found myself so intrigued and moved that I can't really hold any ill will towards it. It was nominated for like 9 Oscars and won them all, and they were definitely deserved. You should definitely give this one a watch. It's quite something.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

The Last Emperor Quotes

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