The Last Emperor

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Bernardo Bertolucci

REVIEWED: 12-27-98

Once, long ago, there was a land called Manchuria, ruled by an emperor, who lived in a Forbidden City surrounded by huge red walls, attended by hundreds of eunuchs and courtesans, and made wealthy by centuries of pillaging. When the last known Emperor of Manchuria, Pu Yi, ascended the throne in 1908, he was three years old. At six, he was forced to abdicate, and at 19, he was ousted from his palaces with his two wives. Though later returned to his throne as a puppet monarch of the Japanese-controlled state of Manchukuo, he was then captured by the Russian army and spent 10 years in a Chinese prison -- only to be freed at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution.

Bernardo Bertolucci's opulent 1988 epic swept the Oscars and captivated the Western audiences for whom it was fashioned. At nearly three hours, this film was considered equal parts heroic biography and lyric eye candy. Now, restored to its full length (219 minutes), The Last Emperor's romantic hue is darker-edged than before: with more scenes of Pu Yi's time in prison, more details of the intricate political web that manipulated and betrayed him, more newsreel footage of the opium wars, Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima, more vintage cars and silk kimonos, more bicycles, more bayonets, more Mao -- more of what made this one of the most provocative and stunningly beautiful films of the past 20 years.

--Peg Aloi

Other Films by Bernardo Bertolucci
Stealing Beauty

Film Vault Suggested Links
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Seven Years in Tibet

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