Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
How does one make an epic more, er, epic? Well, seventeen years after its initial release Bernardo Bertolucci has produced a director’s cut of The Last Emperor featuring an extra hour of footage. This new version weighs in at almost four hours long but still fails to outstay its welcome. Set against the backdrop of uprisings and disturbances that marked China’s efforts to adjust to geopolitical life in the early twentieth century, it traces the life story of Pu Yi, the nation’s last Imperial ruler. The film depicts the regal indulgences of his childhood, through the privileges and isolation of his incarceration in the Forbidden City, and on to his decadent life in exile, his capture and imprisonment for crimes against the Cultural Revolution, and the attempts to rehabilitate him as a fully integrated communist citizen.
David Lone is outstanding as the adult Pu Yi: holding the film together as he transforms from gregarious lord of all he surveys in the Forbidden City to the stubborn stoicism of his uneasy alliance with the Japanese and culminating in the relative calm of his final years as a gardener and gentle subservient of the Maoist regime. THE LAST EMPEROR was Bertolucci’s attempt to fashion a historical epic in the manner of David Lean’s classic films (the influence of the British master is evident in the casting of Peter O’Toole as Pu Yi’s Western tutor), and the result is probably the finest piece of work he has produced. Breathtaking and absorbing, THE LAST EMPEROR is comprised of fascinating storytelling, stunning visual realisation, and exemplary performances.