The Last Emperor


3h 47m 1987

Brief Synopsis

China's final emperor, Pu Yi, becomes a pawn of imperial forces, the invading Japanese and the Communist government.

Film Details

Also Known As
Den siste kejsaren, Last Emperor, dernier empereur, Ășltimo emperador, El
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Biography
Release Date
1987
Distribution Company
Artisan Entertainment
Location
Beijing, China; Shenyand, China; Dalian, China; Cinecitta Studios, Rome, Italy; Changchun, China

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 47m

Synopsis

The story of the last imperial ruler of China.

Crew

James Acheson

Costume Designer

Harry Akst

Song

Franco Angeli

Assistant Director

Franco Antonelli

Wardrobe

Verena Baldeo

Production Assistant

Maria Teresa Barbasso

Art Director

Alan Bell

Dialogue Editor

Hayden Bendall

Music

Manuela Pineski Berger

Production Coordinator

Cicely Berry

Dialogue Coach

Bernardo Bertolucci

Screenplay

Wang Biao

Assistant Director

Maurice Binder

Main Title Design

Stefano Bolzoni

Production Manager

Terry Busby

Foley Editor

David Byrne

Music

Serena Canevari

Assistant Director

Marco Carosi

Video

Bruno Cesari

On-Set Dresser

Gabriella Christiani

Editor

Wang Chunpu

Set Decorator

Grant Clarke

Song

Mario Cotone

Unit Production Manager

Mario Cotone

Production Supervisor

Gino Derossi

Special Effects

Osvaldo Desideri

On-Set Dresser

Calliano Donati

Art Department

Brendan Donnison

Casting

Sergio Forcina

Other

Fabian Gerard

Assistant Director

Gianni Giovagnoni

Art Director

Franco Giovale

Associate Producer

Constantine Gregory

Dialogue Coach

Lou Hangmin

Assistant Director

Joyce Herlihy

Associate Producer

Li Hongsheng

Assistant Director

Mike Hopkins

Dialogue Editor

Aki Ikuta

Music

Aki Ikuta

Music Producer

Massimo Jacobis

Production Assistant

Mike Jarratt

Music

Pu Jie

Technical Advisor

Yang Jingguo

Special Effects

Wang Jixian

Art Director

Herbert Von Karajan

Music Conductor

Yang Kebing

Production Manager

Ulrike Koch

Casting

Carlo Labella

Color

Mary Lance

Film Research

Giulio Levi

Assistant Director

Wang Liansheng

Production Manager

Memo Mancino

Other

Mauro Marchetti

Camera Operator

Clive Martin

Music

Fabrizio Martinelli

Special Effects

Joanna Merlin

Casting

Dario Micheli

On-Set Dresser

Michio Nakagoshi

Music

Yuji Nomi

Music Arranger

Lamberto Palmieri

Production Manager

Basil Pao

Assistant Director

Patricia Pao

Casting

Alberto Passone

Production Manager

Nicola Pecorini

Steadicam Operator

Cloe Peploe

Researcher

Mark Peploe

Screenplay

Ugo Pericoli

Costume Designer

Nicoletta Peyran

Assistant Director

Gabriele Polverosi

Assistant Director

Bill Rowe

Sound

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Music

Pietro Sassaroli

Production Manager

Michael Saxton

Post-Production Supervisor

Ferdinando Scarfiotti

Production Designer

Fabrizio Sforza

Makeup

Ivan Sharrock

Sound

Gianni Silvestri

Art Director

Cynthia Sleiter

Other

Vittorio Storaro

Dp/Cinematographer

Vittorio Storaro

Director Of Photography

Johann Strauss

Music

Cong Su

Music

Shirley Sun

Production Consultant

Ian Sylvester

Music

Shigeru Takise

Music

Jeremy Thomas

Producer

Koji Ueno

Music Arranger

Enrico Umetelli

Camera Operator

Enzo Ungari

Screenplay

Attilio Viti

Production Manager

Les Wiggins

Sound Editor

Ray Williams

Music Supervisor

Gavyn Wright

Music

Wen Xin

Technical Advisor

Pu Yi

Book As Source Material

Ning Ying

Assistant Director

Yu Zhan

Technical Advisor

Hans Zimmer

Music Producer

Hans Zimmer

Music

Film Details

Also Known As
Den siste kejsaren, Last Emperor, dernier empereur, Ășltimo emperador, El
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Biography
Release Date
1987
Distribution Company
Artisan Entertainment
Location
Beijing, China; Shenyand, China; Dalian, China; Cinecitta Studios, Rome, Italy; Changchun, China

Technical Specs

Duration
3h 47m

Award Wins

Best Adapted Screenplay

1987

Best Art Direction

1987
Ferdinando Scarfiotti

Best Cinematography

1987

Best Costume Design

1987

Best Director

1987
Bernardo Bertolucci

Best Editing

1987

Best Picture

1987

Best Score

1987

Best Sound

1987

Articles

The Last Emperor


Inspired by the 1964 autobiography of Aisin-Gioro "Henry" Pu Yi (1903-1967), entitled From Emperor to Citizen, The Last Emperor (1987) follows the extraordinary trajectory of the last emperor of the Ching dynasty (1644-1912): his ascension to the throne as a three-year-old boy, his "abdication" in 1911, his installation as a puppet ruler in Japanese-controlled Manchuria, his capture at the end of World War II and subsequent imprisonment and re-education in Communist China, ending with his new life as a worker at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. The historical events depicted -- often only obliquely -- serve as a framework for the story of Pu Yi's individual struggle: to come to terms with the destiny that is thrust upon him, to accept responsibility for his actions, and to find his true worth as an ordinary human being.

The shooting of The Last Emperor was an epic event in itself. Perhaps the ultimate international coproduction, it was characterized by Variety as "a film about China produced by an Englishman and directed by an Italian in English with many American actors." The $25,000,000 production, by far the most extensive usage of Chinese locations by Western filmmakers up to that time, required 16 weeks of shooting at places such as the Liaodong peninsula, Manchuria, Beijing and, of course, The Forbidden City. Some 19,000 extras (many of them from the Chinese army) and 9,000 costumes were used for the film, figures unthinkable in a Western production with a similar budget. Interiors and the reeducation camp scenes were shot at sound stages at Cinecitta in Italy.

All shooting in China required the prior permission of the state, though the screenplay was ultimately approved without requiring significant changes aside from some factual details. Pu Yi's brother Pu Che, who was in his 80s at the time, served as a consultant to the film as did Li Wenda, a ghostwriter for Pu Yi's autobiography. The production was financed entirely in the West and the crew had to supply its own equipment - including the Steadicam which Bertolucci uses to such great effect in the film. Nonetheless, the production team had to go through the China Film Coproduction Corp. for matters such as currency exchange and import permits. Although Jeremy Thomas has characterized the Chinese government as "very cooperative," in an article written by Tony Rayns for Film Comment Thomas described numerous bureaucratic hurdles that had to be overcome to shoot the film: "Everything had to be brought in, and it's hard to even bring a videotape into China. It was hard to get permission to use non-native Chinese for the main roles, but it was finally accepted because the film had to be in English. The major hurdle was getting permission to use the locations. I was particularly nervous about the Forbidden City; I knew it was the heart of the movie from the production standpoint. We finally cleared it, and we're the first foreigners who have been allowed to shoot there." Rayns adds that Bertolucci's international reputation as a leftist filmmaker helped: "For instance, every time that Bertolucci's name comes up in the coproduction contract for The Last Emperor, it reads: 'Bernardo Bertolucci, member of the Italian Communist Party...." Even the Chinese think it's funny, but it helps to have it there in black and white."

Casting the film presented a formidable logistical challenge to Thomas and Bertolucci, since it required a largely Chinese cast yet the dialogue had to be in English. Most of the major roles are thus filled by Asian actors who worked in the West. The only non-Asian actor in a prominent role is Peter O'Toole who plays Reginal Flemming Johnston, Pu Yi's English tutor. Hong Kong-born John Lone, who plays Pu Yi as an adult, studied acting at Hong Kong and at the Peking Opera before moving to the U.S. His most notable roles before The Last Emperor were in Iceman (1984) - as the title character - and Year of the Dragon (1985). Joan Chen, who was born in Shanghai, previously played in films in Mainland China and the U.S., including Wayne Wang's Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1984); she has also acted in major Hong Kong productions such as Clara Law's Temptation of a Monk (1993) and in David Lynch's cult TV series, Twin Peaks. In 1998 Chen made her directing debut with the acclaimed Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl. Lisa Lu plays the Empress Dowager. Acting in the U.S. since the 1960s, Lu has appeared in television shows such as Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza and Mission: Impossible. More recently, she played An-Mei in The Joy Luck Club (1993). Fourth generation Chinese-American Victor Wong (1927-2001) was part of the Beat scene, helped found Chicago's Second City comedy troupe and played on television and in local theater companies before moving to feature films such as Wayne Wang's Dim Sum and John Carpenter's cult favorite Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Respected Mainland Chinese actor Ruocheng Ying, who plays the Governor in charge of Pu Yi's reeducation, was serving as Deputy Minister of Culture at the time of production. Kaige Chen, one of China's leading contemporary film directors, known for films such as Yellow Earth (1984), Life on a String (1991) and Farewell My Concubine (1993), plays the Captain of the Imperial Guard at the beginning of the film. Also look for Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto in the role of the sinister Amakasu. Sakamoto recently provided the haunting soundtrack music for Nagisa Oshima's Taboo (1999) as well as past Bertolucci scores like The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993).

The real star of the film, however, is arguably Vittorio Storaro's cinematography. The rich subject matter provided Storaro with an ideal opportunity to explore his ideas regarding the psychology of color. In an essay included in the book, Bertolucci's The Last Emperor: Multiple Takes (1998), Storaro explains how his lighting scheme for the film arose when he first read Pu Yi's autobiography: "It was possible, I thought, to register in images the road backward in time, that psychoanalytic road through the various colors of different wavelengths that make up the entire chromatic spectrum of visible energy. Just as white light could represent the end of his life journey, so Pu Yi's various ages could be represented by the various 'ages of the colors.'" Thus the episodes from his childhood are dominated by warm colors such as red, orange and yellow, the section set in Manchuria makes frequent use of indigo, the scenes of his imprisonment and re-education are almost devoid of color, while the scenes of Pu Yi in his old age have a more balanced color spectrum. Clearly the crowning achievement of Storaro's career and one of the great uses of color in film to date, The Last Emperor earned him a much-deserved Academy Award for cinematography.

Bertolucci's film swept the 1987 Academy Awards, taking home statuettes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Sound. The version broadcast on TCM is an extended cut designed for television, featuring over 50 minutes of footage not seen in the 166-minute theatrical release version.

Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay: Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci and Enzu Ungari, based on the book From Emperor to Citizen
Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro
Editor: Gabriella Cristiani
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne and Cong Su
Production Design: Ferdinando Scarfiotti (Art Direction) and Bruno Cesari (Set Decoration)
Costume Design: James Acheson
Sound: Bill Rowe and Ivan Sharrock
Principal Cast: John Lone (Pu Yi as an adult), Richard Vuu (Pu Yi, age 3), Tsou Tijger (Pu Yi, age 8), Tao Wu (Pu Yi, age 15), Joan Chen (Wan Jung, "Elizabeth"), Peter O'Toole (Reginal Johnson), Ruocheng Ying (the Governor), Guang Fan (Pu Chieh as an adult), Victor Wong (Chen Pao Shen), Dennis Dun (Big Li), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Masahiko Amakasu), Maggie Han (Eastern Jewel), Ric Young (Interrogator), Lisa Lu (Tzu Hsui, The Empress Dowager).
C-163m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.

by James Steffen
The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor

Inspired by the 1964 autobiography of Aisin-Gioro "Henry" Pu Yi (1903-1967), entitled From Emperor to Citizen, The Last Emperor (1987) follows the extraordinary trajectory of the last emperor of the Ching dynasty (1644-1912): his ascension to the throne as a three-year-old boy, his "abdication" in 1911, his installation as a puppet ruler in Japanese-controlled Manchuria, his capture at the end of World War II and subsequent imprisonment and re-education in Communist China, ending with his new life as a worker at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. The historical events depicted -- often only obliquely -- serve as a framework for the story of Pu Yi's individual struggle: to come to terms with the destiny that is thrust upon him, to accept responsibility for his actions, and to find his true worth as an ordinary human being. The shooting of The Last Emperor was an epic event in itself. Perhaps the ultimate international coproduction, it was characterized by Variety as "a film about China produced by an Englishman and directed by an Italian in English with many American actors." The $25,000,000 production, by far the most extensive usage of Chinese locations by Western filmmakers up to that time, required 16 weeks of shooting at places such as the Liaodong peninsula, Manchuria, Beijing and, of course, The Forbidden City. Some 19,000 extras (many of them from the Chinese army) and 9,000 costumes were used for the film, figures unthinkable in a Western production with a similar budget. Interiors and the reeducation camp scenes were shot at sound stages at Cinecitta in Italy. All shooting in China required the prior permission of the state, though the screenplay was ultimately approved without requiring significant changes aside from some factual details. Pu Yi's brother Pu Che, who was in his 80s at the time, served as a consultant to the film as did Li Wenda, a ghostwriter for Pu Yi's autobiography. The production was financed entirely in the West and the crew had to supply its own equipment - including the Steadicam which Bertolucci uses to such great effect in the film. Nonetheless, the production team had to go through the China Film Coproduction Corp. for matters such as currency exchange and import permits. Although Jeremy Thomas has characterized the Chinese government as "very cooperative," in an article written by Tony Rayns for Film Comment Thomas described numerous bureaucratic hurdles that had to be overcome to shoot the film: "Everything had to be brought in, and it's hard to even bring a videotape into China. It was hard to get permission to use non-native Chinese for the main roles, but it was finally accepted because the film had to be in English. The major hurdle was getting permission to use the locations. I was particularly nervous about the Forbidden City; I knew it was the heart of the movie from the production standpoint. We finally cleared it, and we're the first foreigners who have been allowed to shoot there." Rayns adds that Bertolucci's international reputation as a leftist filmmaker helped: "For instance, every time that Bertolucci's name comes up in the coproduction contract for The Last Emperor, it reads: 'Bernardo Bertolucci, member of the Italian Communist Party...." Even the Chinese think it's funny, but it helps to have it there in black and white." Casting the film presented a formidable logistical challenge to Thomas and Bertolucci, since it required a largely Chinese cast yet the dialogue had to be in English. Most of the major roles are thus filled by Asian actors who worked in the West. The only non-Asian actor in a prominent role is Peter O'Toole who plays Reginal Flemming Johnston, Pu Yi's English tutor. Hong Kong-born John Lone, who plays Pu Yi as an adult, studied acting at Hong Kong and at the Peking Opera before moving to the U.S. His most notable roles before The Last Emperor were in Iceman (1984) - as the title character - and Year of the Dragon (1985). Joan Chen, who was born in Shanghai, previously played in films in Mainland China and the U.S., including Wayne Wang's Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1984); she has also acted in major Hong Kong productions such as Clara Law's Temptation of a Monk (1993) and in David Lynch's cult TV series, Twin Peaks. In 1998 Chen made her directing debut with the acclaimed Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl. Lisa Lu plays the Empress Dowager. Acting in the U.S. since the 1960s, Lu has appeared in television shows such as Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza and Mission: Impossible. More recently, she played An-Mei in The Joy Luck Club (1993). Fourth generation Chinese-American Victor Wong (1927-2001) was part of the Beat scene, helped found Chicago's Second City comedy troupe and played on television and in local theater companies before moving to feature films such as Wayne Wang's Dim Sum and John Carpenter's cult favorite Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Respected Mainland Chinese actor Ruocheng Ying, who plays the Governor in charge of Pu Yi's reeducation, was serving as Deputy Minister of Culture at the time of production. Kaige Chen, one of China's leading contemporary film directors, known for films such as Yellow Earth (1984), Life on a String (1991) and Farewell My Concubine (1993), plays the Captain of the Imperial Guard at the beginning of the film. Also look for Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto in the role of the sinister Amakasu. Sakamoto recently provided the haunting soundtrack music for Nagisa Oshima's Taboo (1999) as well as past Bertolucci scores like The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993). The real star of the film, however, is arguably Vittorio Storaro's cinematography. The rich subject matter provided Storaro with an ideal opportunity to explore his ideas regarding the psychology of color. In an essay included in the book, Bertolucci's The Last Emperor: Multiple Takes (1998), Storaro explains how his lighting scheme for the film arose when he first read Pu Yi's autobiography: "It was possible, I thought, to register in images the road backward in time, that psychoanalytic road through the various colors of different wavelengths that make up the entire chromatic spectrum of visible energy. Just as white light could represent the end of his life journey, so Pu Yi's various ages could be represented by the various 'ages of the colors.'" Thus the episodes from his childhood are dominated by warm colors such as red, orange and yellow, the section set in Manchuria makes frequent use of indigo, the scenes of his imprisonment and re-education are almost devoid of color, while the scenes of Pu Yi in his old age have a more balanced color spectrum. Clearly the crowning achievement of Storaro's career and one of the great uses of color in film to date, The Last Emperor earned him a much-deserved Academy Award for cinematography. Bertolucci's film swept the 1987 Academy Awards, taking home statuettes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Sound. The version broadcast on TCM is an extended cut designed for television, featuring over 50 minutes of footage not seen in the 166-minute theatrical release version. Producer: Jeremy Thomas Director: Bernardo Bertolucci Screenplay: Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci and Enzu Ungari, based on the book From Emperor to Citizen Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro Editor: Gabriella Cristiani Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne and Cong Su Production Design: Ferdinando Scarfiotti (Art Direction) and Bruno Cesari (Set Decoration) Costume Design: James Acheson Sound: Bill Rowe and Ivan Sharrock Principal Cast: John Lone (Pu Yi as an adult), Richard Vuu (Pu Yi, age 3), Tsou Tijger (Pu Yi, age 8), Tao Wu (Pu Yi, age 15), Joan Chen (Wan Jung, "Elizabeth"), Peter O'Toole (Reginal Johnson), Ruocheng Ying (the Governor), Guang Fan (Pu Chieh as an adult), Victor Wong (Chen Pao Shen), Dennis Dun (Big Li), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Masahiko Amakasu), Maggie Han (Eastern Jewel), Ric Young (Interrogator), Lisa Lu (Tzu Hsui, The Empress Dowager). C-163m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed. by James Steffen

The Last Emperor - Bernardo Bertolucci's THE LAST EMPEROR - Winner of 9 Oscars including Best Picture of 1987


Bernardo Bertolucci advances the case of the historical epic with 1987's big Oscar® winner The Last Emperor, a nearly perfect balance of sweeping destinies and intimate lives. The film covers sixty years in Chinese history familiar to few westerners; stepping into the world of the boy emperor is almost as strange as entering an alternative universe in Tolkien or Frank Herbert. Filmed in English and Chinese in the real Forbidden City in Peiping, The Last Emperor is a fascinating experience from one end to the other.

Criterion's disc rewards the viewer with a wealth of extras on the film's extraordinary production process and its sprawling subject matter. Although Bertolucci prefers his 165-minute theatrical cut, the 218-minute Italian television version adds depth to the saga without slowing down the story.

Synopsis: 1949. The ex- puppet of Manchukuo during the Japanese occupation, Emperor Pu Yi (John Lone) is delivered to the Chinese Communists for re-education under a stern prison warden (Ruocheng Ying). He remembers 1908: As the Dowager Empress nears death, tiny Pu Yi (played at different ages by four actors) is forcibly taken from his parents to become the pampered head of the Ching (Qing) dynasty. Although waited on by an army of servants, Pu Yi cannot leave the Forbidden City. Only years later does he discover that China has become a republic, and that his royal compound is a sort of gilded prison. In the 1920s, as civil war rages outside the walls, English tutor Reginald Johnson (Peter O'Toole) explains to Pu Yi that the dynasty has been retained for symbolic purposes, and that he is held prisoner by his thousands of servants simply to provide them with jobs and income. Pu Yi marries a pre-chosen bride, Wan Jung (Joan Chen). When a new warlord expels the royals, Pu Yi flees with Wan Jung to Tiensien, where they take the names Henry and Elizabeth and live a frivolous life in nightclubs. But, spurred on by Japanese 'friend' Amakasu (Ryuichi Sakamoto), Henry cannot resist the invitation to reclaim his destiny by becoming the new Emperor of Manchukuo. Henry's Japanese installers limit his role to ceremonial duties. Playgirl/friend Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han) hooks Elizabeth on opium so she can be held hostage; Amakasu has their baby murdered at birth to eliminate a potential heir. When the Russians overrun Manchukuo, Henry is captured attempting to escape.

The Last Emperor tells its story with color. It opens with Pu Yi's suicide attempt in a cold, dull train station in Red China. His red blood cues a flashback to the end of the Ching Dynasty, loosing onto the screen a riot of color and lavish textures. Spoiled little Pu Yi romps among endless ranks of guards and servants in fantastic ritual costumes. Mostly kept from his real family, he's pampered by wet nurses and kept ignorant of his position as a bird (or a cricket) in a gilded cage. Women seem to control Pu Yi's life. A gaggle of aunts chooses his bride. On their wedding night she gives Pu Yi a taste of sexual delights and then backs off: "He's very young, but he'll grow up," she laughs.

As if trapped in a time warp, the huge Forbidden City stays in the 19th century while China outside undergoes violent political upheavals. Pu Yi develops a distanced sympathy for democratic values, yet never questions his right to rule. When the warlord's troops invade the Forbidden City, Pu Yi and his court are enjoying a game of tennis, with teacher Johnson serving as referee. Considering the hardships and suffering outside the walls, it's obvious that Pu Yi's royal lifestyle is a social outrage.

All of this is contrasted with the harsh re-education measures in the Red Chinese prison. The middle-aged Pu Yi is incarcerated with several of his former servants, who at first continue to dress him and indulge his lies about being kidnapped by the Japanese to serve as the Emperor of Manchukuo. Back in Tiensien, 'Henry and Elizabeth' adopt western dress, music and customs while the Japanese set them up as puppet monarchs. Amakasu and Eastern Jewel have no difficulty getting Henry to take the bait, despite Elizabeth's pleas that they go to England instead. Installed as a fool in a meaningless office, Henry can only watch as his captors despoil his country, murder his child and reduce Elizabeth to a psychotic state.

Back in the Red Chinese prison, Henry finally understands that he's a Quisling responsible for untold suffering, and that his jailer is really a wise teacher. Released into Chinese society, he becomes a gardener -- until the purges of the 1966 Cultural Revolution.

Bertolucci and his screenwriter Mark Peploe document six-decades of pageantry with a script that makes the unfamiliar unfold with sparkling clarity. Pu Yi collapses in tears when he sees China's real leader, a warlord, arrive by motorcar in a legation compound adjacent to his regal enclosure. His servants will follow his every whim and demand, but when his real mother is dying, the guards will not let him leave the compound to go to her. It's all prestige without power. Except for a summer or two pretending to be Hollywood stars in Tiensien, Henry and his wife spend their entire lives in closely monitored captivity.

Eye-popping visuals and exotic designs abound in the Forbidden City sections of the story as we see how the baby Pu Yi is fed, entertained and attended. Pu Yi's entire life is an artificial bubble, a Dynastic irrelevance persisting in a changed world. Known for intellectual films (The Conformist) where narrative clarity is a secondary concern, Bertolucci assembles The Last Emperor into a succession of perfectly judged scenes that never obstruct the forward momentum of the story. There's not a predictable chapter in the entire film. Pu Yi's wedding night is an exotic fantasy that seems to be happening in a dream.

The script takes a pragmatic view of history. Emperor Pu Yi was at the center of gigantic political convulsions in which millions of his countrymen were killed -- in civil wars, by invading Japanese and by the harsh policies of the Reds. Although Bertolucci acknowledges all of this, he doesn't condemn Red China out of hand. The Cultural Revolution is reduced to a parade of hooligans, while Henry's forced incarceration is seen as a good thing. Less debatable is the film's portrait of the Japanese invaders. Henry sees only the elite spearhead of the Japanese oppressors, but it's bad enough. How many films depict the medical murder of a baby, and force us to accept it as a logical outcome of political power plays?

The acting is uniformly good, with John Lone outstanding as the unwise Emperor. Peter O'Toole is properly starched as the English tutor and actor-composer Ryuchi Sakamoto is a cool menace as the one-armed Amakasu. Joan Chen is heartbreaking as the Emperor's faithful wife, and Maggie Han suitably malevolent as the China-hating adventuress Eastern Jewel.

Criterion's massive boxed set for The Last Emperor presents Bernardo Bertolucci's epic in a pair of excellent encodings. Both the theatrical and TV versions are in enhanced widescreen with great color. The audio is also remarkable, with soundtrack contributions from composers David Byrne, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Cong Su. Discs 2 and three are packed with long-form docus and galleries. New pieces include input from Bertolucci, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the designers and art directors that fabricated a lost Chinese world in record time, with most interiors filmed on Italian sound stages. The main making-of docu shows amusing footage of Bertolucci directing an army of extras on the forecourt of the Forbidden City. Assistants chatter in Italian while assistant directors relay instructions in Chinese. In the middle of this bedlam, other assistants attempt to corral the 3 year-old kid playing Pu Yi.

Other films from Italy and England document Bertolucci's massive production, while historian Ian Buruma provides an annotated video essay explaining 20th Century Chinese history. David Byrne appears for an interesting interview-doc about his contribution to the soundtrack. A fat program book includes essays by David Thompson and Fabien S. Gerard, and interviews with designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bertolucci and actor Ying Ruocheng. Criterion's DVD producer is Kim Hendrickson.

For more information about The Last Emperor, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Last Emperor, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

The Last Emperor - Bernardo Bertolucci's THE LAST EMPEROR - Winner of 9 Oscars including Best Picture of 1987

Bernardo Bertolucci advances the case of the historical epic with 1987's big Oscar® winner The Last Emperor, a nearly perfect balance of sweeping destinies and intimate lives. The film covers sixty years in Chinese history familiar to few westerners; stepping into the world of the boy emperor is almost as strange as entering an alternative universe in Tolkien or Frank Herbert. Filmed in English and Chinese in the real Forbidden City in Peiping, The Last Emperor is a fascinating experience from one end to the other. Criterion's disc rewards the viewer with a wealth of extras on the film's extraordinary production process and its sprawling subject matter. Although Bertolucci prefers his 165-minute theatrical cut, the 218-minute Italian television version adds depth to the saga without slowing down the story. Synopsis: 1949. The ex- puppet of Manchukuo during the Japanese occupation, Emperor Pu Yi (John Lone) is delivered to the Chinese Communists for re-education under a stern prison warden (Ruocheng Ying). He remembers 1908: As the Dowager Empress nears death, tiny Pu Yi (played at different ages by four actors) is forcibly taken from his parents to become the pampered head of the Ching (Qing) dynasty. Although waited on by an army of servants, Pu Yi cannot leave the Forbidden City. Only years later does he discover that China has become a republic, and that his royal compound is a sort of gilded prison. In the 1920s, as civil war rages outside the walls, English tutor Reginald Johnson (Peter O'Toole) explains to Pu Yi that the dynasty has been retained for symbolic purposes, and that he is held prisoner by his thousands of servants simply to provide them with jobs and income. Pu Yi marries a pre-chosen bride, Wan Jung (Joan Chen). When a new warlord expels the royals, Pu Yi flees with Wan Jung to Tiensien, where they take the names Henry and Elizabeth and live a frivolous life in nightclubs. But, spurred on by Japanese 'friend' Amakasu (Ryuichi Sakamoto), Henry cannot resist the invitation to reclaim his destiny by becoming the new Emperor of Manchukuo. Henry's Japanese installers limit his role to ceremonial duties. Playgirl/friend Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han) hooks Elizabeth on opium so she can be held hostage; Amakasu has their baby murdered at birth to eliminate a potential heir. When the Russians overrun Manchukuo, Henry is captured attempting to escape. The Last Emperor tells its story with color. It opens with Pu Yi's suicide attempt in a cold, dull train station in Red China. His red blood cues a flashback to the end of the Ching Dynasty, loosing onto the screen a riot of color and lavish textures. Spoiled little Pu Yi romps among endless ranks of guards and servants in fantastic ritual costumes. Mostly kept from his real family, he's pampered by wet nurses and kept ignorant of his position as a bird (or a cricket) in a gilded cage. Women seem to control Pu Yi's life. A gaggle of aunts chooses his bride. On their wedding night she gives Pu Yi a taste of sexual delights and then backs off: "He's very young, but he'll grow up," she laughs. As if trapped in a time warp, the huge Forbidden City stays in the 19th century while China outside undergoes violent political upheavals. Pu Yi develops a distanced sympathy for democratic values, yet never questions his right to rule. When the warlord's troops invade the Forbidden City, Pu Yi and his court are enjoying a game of tennis, with teacher Johnson serving as referee. Considering the hardships and suffering outside the walls, it's obvious that Pu Yi's royal lifestyle is a social outrage. All of this is contrasted with the harsh re-education measures in the Red Chinese prison. The middle-aged Pu Yi is incarcerated with several of his former servants, who at first continue to dress him and indulge his lies about being kidnapped by the Japanese to serve as the Emperor of Manchukuo. Back in Tiensien, 'Henry and Elizabeth' adopt western dress, music and customs while the Japanese set them up as puppet monarchs. Amakasu and Eastern Jewel have no difficulty getting Henry to take the bait, despite Elizabeth's pleas that they go to England instead. Installed as a fool in a meaningless office, Henry can only watch as his captors despoil his country, murder his child and reduce Elizabeth to a psychotic state. Back in the Red Chinese prison, Henry finally understands that he's a Quisling responsible for untold suffering, and that his jailer is really a wise teacher. Released into Chinese society, he becomes a gardener -- until the purges of the 1966 Cultural Revolution. Bertolucci and his screenwriter Mark Peploe document six-decades of pageantry with a script that makes the unfamiliar unfold with sparkling clarity. Pu Yi collapses in tears when he sees China's real leader, a warlord, arrive by motorcar in a legation compound adjacent to his regal enclosure. His servants will follow his every whim and demand, but when his real mother is dying, the guards will not let him leave the compound to go to her. It's all prestige without power. Except for a summer or two pretending to be Hollywood stars in Tiensien, Henry and his wife spend their entire lives in closely monitored captivity. Eye-popping visuals and exotic designs abound in the Forbidden City sections of the story as we see how the baby Pu Yi is fed, entertained and attended. Pu Yi's entire life is an artificial bubble, a Dynastic irrelevance persisting in a changed world. Known for intellectual films (The Conformist) where narrative clarity is a secondary concern, Bertolucci assembles The Last Emperor into a succession of perfectly judged scenes that never obstruct the forward momentum of the story. There's not a predictable chapter in the entire film. Pu Yi's wedding night is an exotic fantasy that seems to be happening in a dream. The script takes a pragmatic view of history. Emperor Pu Yi was at the center of gigantic political convulsions in which millions of his countrymen were killed -- in civil wars, by invading Japanese and by the harsh policies of the Reds. Although Bertolucci acknowledges all of this, he doesn't condemn Red China out of hand. The Cultural Revolution is reduced to a parade of hooligans, while Henry's forced incarceration is seen as a good thing. Less debatable is the film's portrait of the Japanese invaders. Henry sees only the elite spearhead of the Japanese oppressors, but it's bad enough. How many films depict the medical murder of a baby, and force us to accept it as a logical outcome of political power plays? The acting is uniformly good, with John Lone outstanding as the unwise Emperor. Peter O'Toole is properly starched as the English tutor and actor-composer Ryuchi Sakamoto is a cool menace as the one-armed Amakasu. Joan Chen is heartbreaking as the Emperor's faithful wife, and Maggie Han suitably malevolent as the China-hating adventuress Eastern Jewel. Criterion's massive boxed set for The Last Emperor presents Bernardo Bertolucci's epic in a pair of excellent encodings. Both the theatrical and TV versions are in enhanced widescreen with great color. The audio is also remarkable, with soundtrack contributions from composers David Byrne, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Cong Su. Discs 2 and three are packed with long-form docus and galleries. New pieces include input from Bertolucci, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the designers and art directors that fabricated a lost Chinese world in record time, with most interiors filmed on Italian sound stages. The main making-of docu shows amusing footage of Bertolucci directing an army of extras on the forecourt of the Forbidden City. Assistants chatter in Italian while assistant directors relay instructions in Chinese. In the middle of this bedlam, other assistants attempt to corral the 3 year-old kid playing Pu Yi. Other films from Italy and England document Bertolucci's massive production, while historian Ian Buruma provides an annotated video essay explaining 20th Century Chinese history. David Byrne appears for an interesting interview-doc about his contribution to the soundtrack. A fat program book includes essays by David Thompson and Fabien S. Gerard, and interviews with designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bertolucci and actor Ying Ruocheng. Criterion's DVD producer is Kim Hendrickson. For more information about The Last Emperor, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Last Emperor, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States 2013

Released in United States Fall November 20, 1987

Released in United States October 4, 1987

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Re-released in United States December 4, 1998

Re-released in United States November 25, 1998

Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival October 4, 1987.

1998 Re-release is the director's cut, restored with 58 minutes of previously cut footage.

Re-released (director's cut) in USA on video February 23, 1999.

English-language debut for Chinese actress Vivian Wu.

Began shooting July 28, 1986.

Completed shooting January 30, 1987.

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Bravo Bertolucci" June 29 - September 2, 1996.)

Released in United States 2013 (Galas & Tributes - 3D Conversion)

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Released in United States October 4, 1987 (Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival October 4, 1987.)

Released in United States Fall November 20, 1987

Re-released in United States November 25, 1998 (director's cut; Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago)

Technovision

Re-released in United States December 4, 1998 (director's cut; Film Forum; New York City)