Last Emperor

The Last Emperor

3.9 21
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Bernardo Bertolucci, John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole


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The Last Emperor is the true story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Chinese Ching Dynasty. Told in flashback, the film covers the years 1908 to 1967. We first see the three-year-old Pu Yi being installed in the Forbidden City by ruthless, dying dowager Empress Tzu-Hsui (Lisa Lu). Though he'd prefer to lark about like other boys, the infant emperor is


The Last Emperor is the true story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Chinese Ching Dynasty. Told in flashback, the film covers the years 1908 to 1967. We first see the three-year-old Pu Yi being installed in the Forbidden City by ruthless, dying dowager Empress Tzu-Hsui (Lisa Lu). Though he'd prefer to lark about like other boys, the infant emperor is cossetted and cajoled into accepting the responsibilities and privileges of his office. In 1912, the young emperor (Tijer Tsou) forced to abdicate when China is declared a republic, is a prisoner in his own palace, "protected" from the outside world. Fascinated by the worldliness of his Scottish tutor (Peter O'Toole), Pu Yi plots an escape from his cocoon by means of marriage. He selects Manchu descendant Wan Jung (Joan Chen), who likewise is anxious to experience the 20th century rather than be locked into the past by tradition. Played as an adult by John Lone, Pu Yi puts into effect several social reforms, and also clears the palace of the corrupt eunuchs who've been shielding him from life. In 1924, an invading warlord expels the denizens of the Forbidden City, allowing Pu Yi to "westernize" himself by embracing popular music and the latest dances as a guest of the Japanese Concession in Tientsin. Six years later, his power all but gone, Pu Yi escapes to Manchuria, where he unwittingly becomes a political pawn for the now-militant Japanese government. Humiliating his faithful wife, Pu Yi falls into bad romantic company, carrying on affairs with a variety of parasitic females. During World War II, the Japanese force Pu Yi to sign a series of documents which endorse their despotic military activities. At war's end, the emperor is taken prisoner by the Russians; while incarcerated, he is forced to fend for himself without servants at his beck and call for the first time. He is finally released in 1959 and displayed publicly as proof of the efficacy of Communist re-education. We last see him in 1967, the year of his death; now employed by the State as a gardener, Pu Yi makes one last visit to the Forbidden a tourist. Bernardo Bertolucci's first film after a six-year self-imposed exile, The Last Emperor was released in two separate versions: the 160-minute theatrical release, and a 4-hour TV miniseries. Lensed on location, the film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Rachel Saltz
Bernardo Bertolucci's lush telling of the life and times of "Henry" Pu Yi (John Lone), China's last emperor, is an old-fashioned epic in the tradition of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, a history lesson, and an art-house film rolled into one. The result? A classic movie that garnered eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, the film follows Pu Yi's metamorphosis from pampered royal to free-thinking rebel to everyman citizen of the People's Republic. Standout performances include Peter O'Toole as the Scottish tutor who teaches Pu Yi about the outside world and Joan Chen as the beautiful young woman whom Pu Yi marries. Bertolucci, himself a Communist, wants us to believe in the film's gray, Mao-suited present tense, but the swooning beauty of the flashbacks stands as its own rebuff. Granted access to the Forbidden City (the first Westerners to be so honored), Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro created a visually stunning film, with rich, sensuous images that evoke a vanished world.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
In this unprecedented Sino-Western co-production, Bernardo Bertolucci turned the strange life of final Chinese crown ruler Pu Yi into a sumptuous epic. Shooting on location in China in the first Western production allowed to film in Beijing's Forbidden City, Bertolucci spent $25 million on lavish sets and costumes, as well as a cast of thousands, for a story spanning six decades, from Pu Yi's 1908 coronation to his 1960s life as a poor civilian. The story is structured through flashback memories as Pu Yi comes to grips with existence as a villain and commoner under Communism, and Vittorio Storaro's exquisite cinematography subtly underscores the emperor's rise and fall by shifting from a palette rich in reds, oranges, and yellows for Pu Yi's imperial years to somber blues and grays for his exile and imprisonment. Despite critical complaints that the story was lacking in emotional involvement, many viewers agreed that Bertolucci had created another visual marvel. Nominated for nine Oscars, The Last Emperor scored an unexpected sweep, winning all nine, including Best Picture and Best Director. An hour of footage cut from the release version was restored in the 1998 theatrical reissue reedited by Bertolucci.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro; new restored high-definition digital transfer of the extended television version; audio commentary featuring director Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamoto; "The Italian Traveler: Bernardo Bertolucci," a 53-minute film by Fernand Moszkowicz tracing the director's geographic influences, from Parma to China; video images taken by Bertolucci while on preproduction in China; "The Chinese Adventure of Bernardo Bertolucci," a 52-minute documentary that revisits the film's making; a new, 47-minute documentary featuring Storaro, editor Gabriella Cristiana, costume designer James Acheson, and art director Gianni Silvestri; a 66-minute BBC documentary exploring Bertolucci's creative process and the making of The Last Emperor; a 30-minute interview with Bertolucci from 1989; a new interview with composer David Byrne; a new interview with Ian Buruma examining the historical period of the film; theatrical trailer.
PLUS: A booklet featuring: an essay by David Thomson; interviews with production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and actor Ying Ruocheng; a reminiscence by Bertolucci; and an essay and production-diary extracts from Fabien S. Gerard.

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Lone Pu Yi as an Adult
Joan Chen Wan Jung, "Elizabeth"
Peter O'Toole Reginald Johnston, "R.J."
Ying Ruocheng The Governor
Victor Wong Chen Pao Shen
Dennis Dun Big Li
Ryuichi Sakamoto Masahiko Amakasu
Maggie Han Eastern Jewel
Ric Young Interrogator
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa Chang
Jade Go Ar Mo
Fumihiko Ikeda Yoshioka
Tiger Tsou Pu Yi, Age 8
Fan Guang Pu Chieh
Henry Kyi Pu Chieh, Age 7
Alvin Riley Pu Chieh, Age 14
Yang Baozong Gen. Yuan Shikai
Wang Biao Prisoner
Cui Jingping Lady of the Pen
Dong Jiechen Doctor
Gu Junguo Tang
Cai Hongxiang Scarface
Soong Huaikuei Lung Yu
Pan Hung Li Shu Xian
LiDien Lang Empress Wan Rung
Liangbin Zhang Big Foot
Zhang Lingmu Emperor Hirohito
Basil Pao Prince Chun
Martin Reynolds Englishman
Luo Shigang Chang Ching Hui's secretary
Zhang Tianmin Old Tutor
LiDien Xing Li Yu Qin
Jiang Xi Ren Lord Chamberlain
Yang Hongchang Scribe
Vivian Wu Wen Hsiu
Richard Vuu Pu Yi (3 years)
Wu Tao Pu Yi (15 years)
Lisa Lu Tzu Hsui, The Empress Dowager
Hideo Takamatsu Gen. Ishikari
Hajime Tachibana Japanese Translator
Huang Wenjie Hunchback
Liang Dong Lady Aisin-Gioro
Dong Zhendong Old Doctor
Constantine Gregory Oculist
Shao Ruzhen First High Consort
Xu Chunqing Grey Eyes
Luo Hongnian Sleeping Old Tutor
Yu Shihong Hsiao Hsiu
Wu Jun Wen Hsiu (12 years)
Lucia Hwong Lady of the Book
Wu Hai Republican Officer
Xu Tongrui Captain of Feng's Army
Li Fusheng Minister of Trade
Chen Shu Chang Chinghui
Cheng Shuyan Lady Hiro Saga
Zhang Daxing Tough Warder
Zu Ruigang Second Warder
Jin Yuan Party Boss
Akira Ikuta Japanese Doctor
Michael Vermaaten American
Matthew Spender Englishman
Chen Kaige Capital of Imperial Guard
Rio Ruocheng Actor

Technical Credits
Bernardo Bertolucci Director,Screenwriter
James Acheson Costumes/Costume Designer
Maria Teresa Barbasso Art Director
David Byrne Score Composer
Su Cong Score Composer
Gabriella Cristiani Editor
Giannetto De Rossi Special Effects
Gino de Rossi Special Effects
Gianni Giovagnoni Art Director
Franco Giovale Associate Producer
Joyce Herlihy Associate Producer
Ulrike Koch Casting
Fabrizio Martinelli Special Effects
Joanna Merlin Casting
Nicola Pecorini Camera Operator
Mark Peploe Screenwriter
Ryuichi Sakamoto Score Composer
Ferdinando Scarfiotti Production Designer
Fabrizio Sforza Makeup
Ivan Sharrock Sound/Sound Designer
Gianni Silvestri Art Director
Vittorio Storaro Cinematographer
Jeremy Thomas Producer
Enzo Ungari Screenwriter
Ray Williams Musical Direction/Supervision

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- The Last Emperor: The Theatrical Version
1. Manchuria, 1950 [6:46]
2. Peking, 1908 [8:03]
3. First Coronation [3:42]
4. The Young Emperor [2:43]
5. Criminal [2:06]
6. Puchieh [9:07]
7. A New Republic [4:39]
8. Reginald Johnston [4:34]
9. First Lesson [3:53]
10. Protests [4:10]
11. Grief [7:19]
12. Spectacles [3:18]
13. Two Wives [4:29]
14. Strangers [5:30]
15. Confession [3:01]
16. Reforms [8:22]
17. Departures [1:00]
18. Life Outside [5:14]
19. Secondary Consort [6:47]
20. Tientsin, 1931 [8:00]
21. Manchuria, 1934 [4:09]
22. Second Coronation [6:02]
23. New Quarters [9:05]
24. Manchuria, 1935 [2:48]
25. Puppet [7:53]
26. The Russians [5:04]
27. Freedom [7:17]
28. Peking, 1967 [3:24]
29. Citizen [5:51]
1. The Story's Challenges [6:46]
2. Locations and Sets [8:03]
3. Shooting Logistics [3:42]
4. Details [2:43]
5. Reeducation Begins [2:06]
6. History as Dramatis Personae [9:07]
7. Metaphors [4:39]
8. Change in China [4:34]
9. Casting Difficulties/Reginald Johnston [3:53]
10. Dialogue Continuity [4:10]
11. Color/Lighting [7:19]
12. Reference Works [3:18]
13. Chinese New Wave [4:29]
14. Joan Chen/Sex and Sexuality [5:30]
15. Ric Young/Interrogations [3:01]
16. Process/Lies [8:22]
17. Two Sides of Pu Yi's Nature [1:00]
18. Vittorio Storaro/Life Outside [5:14]
19. Become the Structure/Eastern Jewel [6:47]
20. Re-Creating the Past [8:00]
21. An Ordinary Man [4:09]
22. Nagisa Oshima/The Score [6:02]
23. An Interest in Asia/Ryuichi Sakamoto [9:05]
24. John Lone/Omnipotence [2:48]
25. On China and Japan [7:53]
26. Historical Background [5:04]
27. An Inaccuracy [7:17]
28. The Tragedy of the Governor [3:24]
29. A Useful Life [5:51]
Disc #2 -- The Last Emperor: The Television Version
1. Manchuria, 1950 [6:46]
2. Peking, 1908 [9:12]
3. First Coronation [4:19]
4. Criminal [1:48]
5. The Young Emperor [7:02]
6. Prison [1:57]
7. Pu Chieh [9:25]
8. Reeducation [3:27]
9. A New Republic [8:07]
10. Instructions [4:17]
11. Reginald Johnston [4:57]
12. First Lesson [4:56]
13. Protests [7:13]
14. Grief [9:38]
15. Spectacles [3:46]
16. Two Wives [7:32]
17. Strangers [6:48]
18. Confession [3:03]
19. Reforms [7:45]
20. Expelled [2:14]
21. State Prisoners [3:22]
22. Life Outside [7:56]
23. Secondary Consort [7:19]
24. Tientsin, 1931 [9:28]
25. Manchuria, 1934 [7:46]
26. Second Coronation [6:47]
27. New Quarters [9:26]
28. Manchuria, 1935 [4:43]
29. Puppet [9:48]
30. The Russians [9:41]
31. Freedom [8:08]
32. Peking, 1967 [4:01]
33. Citizen [7:21]
Disc #3 -- The Last Emperor: Supplements - Part 1
1. The Journey Begins [6:03]
2. Provocations [7:21]
3. Ghosts [10:34]
4. Far West to Far East [3:51]
5. From Darkness to Light [8:38]
6. Metamorphoses [9:45]
7. Mystery [6:44]
1. Memories [6:55]
2. "The Birth of Omnipotence" [4:36]
3. The Expulsion of the Eunuchs [2:12]
4. Directing [4:37]
5. Editing [9:08]
6. Recording the Score [12:23]
7. Sakamoto As Amakasu [3:39]
8. First Screening [4:23]
9. Metamorphoses [2:54]
1. A Unique Collaborator [1:53]
2. Preproduction [8:38]
3. Logistics [5:22]
4. Visuals [9:25]
5. The Coronation Scene [8:35]
6. Small Details/Editing [5:48]
7. Recollections [4:44]
Disc #4 -- The Last Emperor: Supplements - Part 2
1. A Brief History [8:47]
2. First Memory [8:03]
3. Walled In [3:59]
4. Protests [9:48]
5. Reginald Johnston [9:03]
6. Becoming a Man [7:07]
7. Puppet Emperor [6:42]
8. Prison [6:58]
9. Freedom [5:25]
1. A Need for Reform [6:21]
2. A Surge of Nationalism [5:45]
3. The Warlord Period [7:28]
4. Japan and Manchuria [8:12]
5. 1937-45 [8:16]
6. 1945-50 [5:41]
7. The Cultural Revolution [2:59]


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