Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Last Emperor (1987)



Reviews and Comments

Bernardo Bertolucci's opulent account of the life of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, is the kind of broad, grand epic that makes it easy to understand how it was so richly rewarded at the Academy Awards. It deserved many of the awards it received, but not Best Picture: though it looks magnificent, the movie is not as involving as it should be, and the narrative crumbles a bit in the second half. It's also much too long (the director's cut is nearly four hours), but shortening the film would only weaken its value as a drama and a historical account. If you're going to see this, might as well see the director's cut, even if it feels like the 50 years the story covers ticks by in real time.

I don't want to be too negative, however. Whatever its weaknesses, it is a rich, accomplished, and sometimes dazzling film that tells a story rarely told. If the story is not as emotionally involving as I'd like, it's certainly intellectually compelling: here is a man born to immeasurable power, and ultimately what it buys for him is helplessness and confinement. This man, who should have been the agent for great change in the world, is shuffled about by circumstance while changes occur around him. How inextricable this man was from his circumstances in life. Had he been born in another age, is it possible to envision what he would have become as a man?