The Last Emperor - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Last Emperor Reviews

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December 4, 2017
I can see why it won best picture, its definitely something the academy would like: An epic period film. Some interesting historical stuff in a pretty good movie.
October 8, 2017
This lavish, and beautiful epic pulled me in and never let go. It truly is a wonderful fully realized epic.
August 28, 2017
While beautiful features to the film certainly add to it, overall I found it to be a quite slow film without much drama. Some really emotional scenes with Puyi as a child are soon forgotten about and he becomes a character simply chasing a throne without doing much chasing, with a lot of stalling and slow scenes along the way.
August 5, 2017
10 out of 10:

An interesting story, great acting, gorgeous costumes and sets, and who could forget the astounding cinematography that makes The Last Emperor an epic delight.
June 24, 2017
Truly epic, particularly because I watched the 218 minute cut created for Italian television rather than the theatrical release. Bernardo Bertolucci's film follows the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, who was brought to the Forbidden City at age 3 but forced to abdicate only a few years later in 1912, retaining some privileges until he and his entourage were expelled in 1924. The film views these events from the future, in 1950, when Pu Yi is imprisoned by the People's Republic and put through a 10-year period of re-education, eventually recanting his right to the throne. However, we see his journey to this point as a painful one, as he grows from a selfish sheltered boy into a wilful adolescent, sparring with this Scottish tutor (Peter O'Toole, at home in another epic after his tenure with David Lean) and demanding to be treated as special. Eventually he is played as an adult by John Lone and Joan Chen is chosen to be his bride (he also has a concubine or two). All of this happens quite outside of the public eye - and Pu Yi is apparently unaware of the various transitions in Chinese society and government outside the walls of the Forbidden City (where the production actually filmed, with the blessing of the current Chinese leadership). His ignorance and desire to return to ruling the entire country made him an easy pawn of the Japanese who eventually took over Manchuria (from where the emperor's family originated) and coronated Pu Yi as (puppet) leader. In prison, he claims that his actions were forced but in flashback we see this not to be the case. Things become depressing and decadent. After his release from prison in 1959, Pu Yi takes on the role of gardener and, alone, after his separation from his spouse(s) and all others, he dies quietly during the era of Mao. Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro make the most of this material, offering up beautiful images, richly coloured according to era (and eventually reminding one of the deco period glamour of The Conformist, 1970). Although I suspect the theatrical cut (which won 9 Oscars) was tighter, I found this unfamiliar story engrossing, an experience that was heightened by the magnificent style of the film.
June 21, 2017
The Last Emperor lacks the flavor of most Asian cinema, but has a certain grandeur that covers the entire life of a man who spent nearly all his years under so much repression that only at the end did he find happiness: as a gardener - in prison.
½ April 6, 2017
Unbearably dull and unbelievably long. Truly one of the worst films I've seen as it has no entertainment value. (First and only viewing - 1/17/2011)
February 28, 2017
The film's beauty comes more from its setting that the story itself, but if you have about 4 hours to spare, it is worth the watch.
February 7, 2017
With such extensive Academy Award recognition to its name, The Last Emperor sounded like Bernardo Bertolucci's true masterpiece.

Bernardo Bertolucci is the kind of filmmaker who has proven that even in times when he cannot craft the most interesting story, he knowns how to create a visionary experience. As Stealing Beauty (1996) and The Dreamers (2003) are the only two films of his I have seen which have both lived up to this prophecy, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when The Last Emperor did as well. It was just more disappointing this time around due to the higher level of critical acclaim this film held over the director's other works.
I wasn't all that familiar with the political history of China before going in to The Last Emperor so I had hoped that it would provide me some kind of historical understanding of the country. In actual fact, the audience gets as much of a sheltered perspective of the political context as the titular character. The same way that Puyi is hidden from the world in the Forbidden City in Beijing. As a result we are able to see the world through the eyes of the protagonist yet blinded to the mass amounts of history that he is missing. The fact that the story maintains such a narrow focus over such a lengthy period of time makes it an epic which is actually rather small in scale. When considering that, it just makes the film seem like an oxymoron.
It's clear that The Last Emperor has such a great story to it, but Bernardo Bertolucci insists on keeping the focus so minimal without knowing precisely what makes the story interesting. The beginning of the film is focused so heavily on Puyi growing up as a child granted the title of the next Emperor that essentially nothing happens for the entire first hour. The film is nice to look at for the duration of this, but the lack of actual story dynamics grows increasingly frustrated. Eventually we begin to see some things happening, but the slow pace of the film is maintained the entire time and so the sparks of intrigue are not turned into flames at any major point in the film. We are expected to just looking at the pretty pictures while little else happens until around halfway through the film, and by that point the damage is already done. Even when the story does finally begin to explore more engaging territory, the unsatisfactory build-up and continuously slow pace keep the film from making any kind of emotional impact.
During this extensive waiting period, the character development doesn't prove to justify the small scale of the film. Rather than emphasizing who Puyi was as a person, the film simply presents his life as an emperor. Obviously this needed to be a key story factor in a film called The Last Emperor, but we never gain any understanding of who he truly was as a person. The film begins by showing Puyi's childhood in which we see the traditional manner a child is raised in the Forbidden City as the story intertwines this with his contemporary experiences as a prisoner of Fushun. Trying to keep up with both these time periods while the context of them is so elusive proves to just make the experience thoroughly confusing, and the already boring nature of the film makes it a chore to have to follow along with. So ultimately, The Last Emperor has a story which is too poorly focused, too confusing, too slow and too long for its own good.
But as with any Bernardo Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor is pretty to look at. Given that the production of the film marked the first time a European filmmaker had been granted access to film in the Forbidden City of Beijing, it's quite a momentous production. And the director has no fear for showing off as much of the land as he can. The scenery is therefore picture perfect and makes the story seamlessly believable while the added production design and costumes just help to reinforce it. The film is a magnificent spectacle of imagery which is captured with perfectly gentle cinematography that always grasps the scale of the setting it deals with, and the beautiful musical score helps to compliment the visuals by reinforcing the film's cultural grace and atmospheric strength.
And even if the characters aren't magnificent, the cast in The Last Emperor make a solid effort.
John Lone proves perfectly sophisticated as Puyi. He only comes into the film during the later years of the story, but he enters during the most character-focused segments of the story and manages to capture the sophistication and genuine political concern of China's last emperor. He is also assisted by Joan Chen whose natural charisma helps to spark a strong chemistry between the two when the story makes them interact. Both John Lone and Joan Chen make a memorable presence in The Last Emperor.
Of course, it is the legendary actor Peter O'Toole who stands out in The Last Emperor. Assisted by the fact that he plays the only role in the film whose relevance to the story is explicit, Peter O'Toole's delightful charm helps to give energy to the film when it plods along at a tediously slow rate much of the time. The actor presents a naturally intelligent character who interacts with Puyi by showing some actual heart and transcending the background that all the other characters fade into. The man's natural charisma just lights up the screen and his friendly nature really pushes the film out of the bleak tone it finds itself trapped in for much of the time. Peter O'Toole's supporting effort in The Last Emperor really proves to be one of the most enjoyable assets to the film.
The presence of popular 80's Asian actors Victor Wong and Dennis Dun is also entertaining after their prior collaborations on Year of the Dragon (1985) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986). And as a fan of B-movie action cinema, I'm always happy to spot Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa.

The Last Emperor boasts Bernardo Bertolucci's magnificent eye for imagery and Peter O'Toole's finely-tuned charm, but the epic political story behind the narrative is forsaken for a one-dimensional depiction of an identity-ridden narrative stretched on for too long by a tedious pace.
January 15, 2017
While Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor is a stylish epic drama, it lacks historical accuracy and its excessive lenght proves to be quite bothersome.
½ January 5, 2017
The costumes and cinematography are top notch, and, accompained with a compelling story, make this film a great watch.
½ October 3, 2016
So unbelievably epic. The journey you take through Pu Yi's life, beginning to end, highs to lows, is extraordinary.
½ September 19, 2016
Essential viewing for any film watcher or would-be filmmaker. Essential viewing for historical purposes and life purposes.
August 12, 2016
Classic! One of those very well made films and well directed. The sceneries are fantastic. And the cinematography is top notch. Performances are over dramatic some times, not a fan of the teen version of the emperor. I think they could get another better Chinese actor than that. Also story wise, I hate it. One of those character driven films that I despise so much despite of its great writing. All I see is a spoiled brat emperor grows old and learned from his past being a prisoner. Nevertheless it is deserving to get accolades. Ideal films for the critics.
August 7, 2016
Visually stunning historical epic

A very remarkable film indeed, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor tells the astonishing true story of Pu Yi, who was crowned the last emperor of China at the age of three and died a simple gardener in Beijing in the 1960s. But the real story is about China, and its turmoil through the wars and revolutions of the 20th century.

The film's richness and beauty are almost daunting, but it's certainly a film which anyone interested in the art of cinema will want to see. The Criterion standard DVD special edition, on which this review is based, includes two versions of the film, the original theatrical release and the director's special television release. Both are digitally remastered and have the same aspect ratio; unlike the usual situation, the television release is longer, and many fans of the film think it tells the story more fully and therefore more clearly, while others prefer the more tightly edited theatrical release. I recommend the television release, provided you have lots of time --- it's very long.

The Criterion set includes many special extras and a booklet. Advisories: a couple moderately explicit sex scenes, and a few short but shocking violent ones.
½ June 3, 2016
A magnificent biographical historical film. Great real sceneries. A story flowing during time of changes, great changes and the paradoxical character of this child emperor and is tragedy life.
May 9, 2016
Many of the critics, Ebert included, praised this film for being a beautifully filmed story of a man whose life was really a waste. It is indeed fascinating in this regard since most epic films focus on men who did great things, but this unique element is what sadly hurts the film in my opinion. I just don't see the point of a three hour film about a man whose position was fake and who ultimately did nothing but become a pleasant gardener. When the (astonishing) set that you're filming on is better than the character that your whole movie is riding on, you've got yourself a problem.
May 5, 2016
The Last Emperor (1987) ????
Spellbinding saga recollecting the final emperor of China.A haunting, sumtous, unforgettable epic, and is among Bernardo Bertolucci's best movie. Acting, dialogue, direction, score, A generally great movie experience that demands multiple viewings.
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