The Last Emperor

1987, Biography/History, 2h 42m

119 Reviews 25,000+ Ratings

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critics consensus

While Bernardo Bertolucci's decadent epic never quite identifies the dramatic pulse of its protagonist, stupendous visuals and John Lone's ability to make passivity riveting give The Last Emperor a rarified grandeur. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

This sweeping account of the life of Pu Yi (John Lone), the last emperor of China, follows the leader's tumultuous reign. After being captured by the Red Army as a war criminal in 1950, Pu Yi recalls his childhood from prison. He remembers his lavish youth in the Forbidden City, where he was afforded every luxury but unfortunately sheltered from the outside world and complex political situation surrounding him. As revolution sweeps through China, the world Pu Yi knew is dramatically upended.

Cast & Crew

John Lone
Emperor (Henry) Pu Yi
Joan Chen
Empress (Elizabeth) Wan Jung
Peter O'Toole
Reginald Fleming 'R.J.' Johnston
Ying Ruocheng
The Governor
Victor Wong
Chen Pao Shen
Dennis Dun
Big Li, valet
Maggie Han
Eastern Jewel
Ric Young
Interrogator
Mark Peploe
Screenwriter
John Daly
Executive Producer
David Byrne
Original Music
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Original Music
Vittorio Storaro
Cinematographer
Ferdinando Scarfiotti
Production Design
James Acheson
Costume Design
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News & Interviews for The Last Emperor

Critic Reviews for The Last Emperor

Audience Reviews for The Last Emperor

  • Dec 18, 2020
    The perspective and narrative are obviously very Western in execution but Bertolucci was making this for American and European audiences. It is accessible history that is still fairly honest. I do wish the final section was a lot longer as I think that's where the film's most compelling stretch falls.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 20, 2013
    The Last Emperor is a very sweeping and engaging epic. From a visual perspective it is fantastic and in terms of this man forced to be King, we ultimately get a very tragic tale.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 27, 2013
    Grandly staged and beautifully executed, The Last Emperor is a visually stunning biopic on the life of Aisin-Gioror Pu Yi. The film covers his rise to power, his privileged isolation, and the political turmoil he found himself in later in life. At three and a half hours, The Last Emperor is a film that requires some patience, but has the technical skill and sufficient narrative power to keep you engaged. Director Bernardo Bertolucci is able to fill The Last Emperor with so much visual intrigue, that one can hardly afford to look away. Each scene is framed with immense elegance, and is accentuated masterfully by brilliant costume design and set design. In this way, the world building for Last Emperor is nearly perfect. We see China and its traditional grandeur, the awkwardness that the outside poverty offers, and the contrast to the more modern changes taking place. As such, it is an exceedingly strong example of how a period piece should be staged. As a narrative Last Emperor is largely successfully, but not flawless. Whereas the technical elements of the film are executed to excellence, the story in Last Emperor is told with some mishaps. It offers very interesting characters, but not full characterizations. Peter O'Toole's character, for instance, is a hallmark of the first half, but is never fully paid off. O'Toole brings a fine performance, as does John Lone, but the relationship between the two is never fully realized. How his influence escalates is never quite shown, he exits in far too much of a disjointed manner. This is true of a number of the secondary actors as well, such a Vivian Wu, whose character feels oddly inexplicable in the film. The character arc for Lone is done well up until the last act, where his seeming betrayal is never explored enough, and whose increased intellectual prowess never seems quite on point with where he should be. Taken on a whole, however, the story in Last Emperor is fascinating. The themes are interwoven especially well, examining class, power, change, and retrospection. We are treated not only to a historical journey that is reality-based, but we are also given a biopic that would exist successful on its own dramatic merits, outside of the actual people it's based on. An overall strong and memorable drama. 4/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 18, 2012
    Visually stunning, but suffers from too little dramatic development. As Pu Yi grows, there are too many inconsistencies--the annoying dubbed child's voice at 2 y.o., speaking beautifully fluent British English as an 8 year old, and then becoming suddenly Chinese again at age 15. In other words, more attention is paid to the movie's style than to its substance or the details. And while the style is truly beautiful, you need a decent story to go along, and we don't get that as audiences.
    Jeff L Super Reviewer

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