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The Last Emperor

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United Kingdom, Italy, China · 1987
Rated PG-13 · 2h 43m
Director Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring John Lone, Peter O'Toole, Joan Chen, Vivian Wu
Genre Drama, History

A dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People's Republic.

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What are people saying?

Ricardo Rico Profile picture for Ricardo Rico

Pu Yi as a subject is ideal for a biography like this, and it's very satisfying to see that the film can cover a large amount of his life. It also can't be overlooked how much of a visual accomplishment the film is. Bertolucci took full advantage of the opportunity to be the first western production to gain access to the Forbidden City. The result is film that covers an incredible amount of visual and biographical range.

What are critics saying?


Washington Post by

That Bertolucci -- with his momentous visual choreography, and Vittorio Storaro's velvety cinematography -- manages to touch on all of this makes The Last Emperor a remarkable achievement. The politics and pageantry tend to overrun the story at times, but it seems appropriate -- Emperor Pu Yi was overwhelmed by such things.


Chicago Tribune by Dave Kehr

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. [9 Dec 1987, p.2]


Chicago Reader by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Bernardo Bertolucci's visually ravishing spectacle about the life of Pu Yi is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time.


Wall Street Journal by Julie Salamon

The movie's considerable emotional force springs from the splendor of its visual poetry. Mr. Bertolucci allows the sweep of 60 years of Chinese history to unfold around Pu Yi as background noise to his peculiar, poignant role in the emergence of modern China. [25 Nov 1987, p.1]


Chicago Sun-Times by Roger Ebert

It probably is unforgivably bourgeois to admire a film because of its locations, but in the case of The Last Emperor the narrative cannot be separated from the awesome presence of the Forbidden City, and from Bertolucci's astonishing use of locations, authentic costumes and thousands of extras to create the everyday reality of this strange little boy.

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