The Last Emperor

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"1500 slaves. 353,260,000 royal subjects. Warlords. Concubines. And 2 wives. He was the loneliest boy in the world."
  • PG-13
  • 1987
  • 2 hr 40 min
  • 7.7  (109,457)
  • 76

The Last Emperor is a historical drama film released in 1987 and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. This masterpiece of cinematography is based on the life of the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, as told in his autobiography. The film stars John Lone as Pu Yi, Joan Chen as his empress, and Peter O'Toole as Sir Reginald Johnston, who served as his English tutor.

The movie is set in the early 20th century, during a time when China was transitioning from a traditional monarchist society to a republic. Pu Yi, who ascended to the throne at the age of two, was the last of China's ruling dynasties, and his story is one of privilege, tragedy, and change.

The plot begins with the child Pu Yi growing up within the walls of the Forbidden City, the secluded palace in the heart of Beijing that served as the imperial residence for centuries. He is surrounded by the ornate beauty and sheer magnitude of his surroundings. The courtyard he plays in is filled with an army of eunuchs, mandarins, and concubines who attend his every whim.

However, the young prince's world is rocked to its core when revolutionaries overthrow the Qing dynasty and Pu Yi is left adrift. He spends years in a state of limbo, trying to find his place in a China that has no use for him. The film then shifts to 1924 when Pu Yi is taken into custody by the nationalists, who intend to use him as a prop in their political game.

During the period of his imprisonment, the film explores the bulk of Pu Yi's life, both in flashbacks and in real-time. Through his conversations with Sir Reginald Johnston, the British tutor who is instrumental in the young man's upbringing, we see flashes of the isolation and despair that accompany life under house arrest. Pu Yi struggles to come to terms with the fact that his once-proud title of emperor is now nothing more than a hollow shell.

As the story unfolds, we see glimpses of Pu Yi's life both inside and outside the Forbidden City. We see him as an awkward but playful child trying to navigate the complex rules of palace life, as a teenage emperor dealing with the pressures of running a country he doesn't really understand, and finally as a young man coming to terms with his own identity and place in the world.

The Last Emperor is a visually stunning film, and the lavish cinematography really brings the story to life. The Forbidden City itself is one of the movie's true stars, with its intricate detail and gorgeous colors. One of the standout scenes in the movie is the coronation ceremony, where we see just how much ceremony and ritual went into the lives of China's emperors.

The characters in the film are all incredibly well-done, with John Lone's portrayal of Pu Yi being particularly compelling. He manages to convey the sense of isolation and despair that comes with being a figurehead ruler in a rogue nation perfectly. Joan Chen is also superb as his empress, Wan Jung, and Peter O'Toole brings his usual gravitas to the role of Sir Reginald Johnston.

In conclusion, The Last Emperor is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word. It tells the story of an emperor who lived at a time of great change and upheaval in China's history, and does so in a way that both educates and entertains. The cinematography alone is worth the price of admission, but it's the story and characters that really make this movie stand out. If you're a fan of historical dramas, then this is a movie you simply can't afford to miss.

The Last Emperor is a 1987 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 40 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.7 and a MetaScore of 76.

The Last Emperor
Where to Watch The Last Emperor
The Last Emperor is available to watch, stream, download and buy on demand at Max, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent The Last Emperor for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 40 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.7  (109,457)
  • Metascore