The Last Emperor (1987) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Last Emperor (1987)



Critic Consensus: While decidedly imperfect, Bernardo Bertolucci's epic is still a feast for the eyes.

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Movie Info

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. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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

Critic Reviews for The Last Emperor

All Critics (72) | Top Critics (23)

Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor is like a lavishly prepared six-course meal during which the host keeps telling us we would all be happier and healthier with a place of cold porridge.

February 3, 2020 | Full Review…

Not for the first time in Bertolucci's work, the parts do not quite build into a whole, even when that whole is built on shifting perspectives. But they are magnificent.

January 27, 2020 | Full Review…

The most startling achievement of The Last Emperor is that it accomplishes what seems to have eluded Bertolucci for some time. He has found the small in the large and, in many ways, he has created what many thought impossible -- an intimate epic.

April 26, 2018 | Full Review…

As pure spectacle, "The Last Emperor" is a spellbinding peek behind the gate of a lost world.

February 17, 2015 | Full Review…

It is a hesitant, conservative approach that yields great elegance and a rhythm that carries the viewer along. Yet the film is haunted by a sense of opportunities not taken, of an artist deliberately reining in his artistry.

January 7, 2014 | Rating: 3/4

If there is such a thing as voluptuous detachment, Bertolucci and John Lone have found it. Lone's achievement in his absorbing account of Pu Yi is to place him at a distance and yet make his plight totally involving.

January 7, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Last Emperor


Endearing. Beautiful. Thoroughly poignant. Why? The music is a wonder, the visuals and production values meaningfully recreated, the atmosphere is wholly emotionally captivating and extremely fascinating, and the drama wonderfully directed. There are a few flaws to be found, admittedly, but as whole, it triumphs in splendor.

Adriel Lim
Adriel Lim

Super Reviewer


Its an okay movie, i can see why it won best picture as it is visually stunning and the costume and makeup artists did a brilliant job! Its interesting to a point about the last emperor however it just failed to engage me, i think over 3.5hours is asking a lot of the audience but to have a movie that is moving at a glacial pace and doesnt have any action and quite frankly isnt the most dramatic movie ive seen before it just left me thinking , 'well ill never get those three hours of my life back' I think a very overrated movie, and not engaging enough for me to rate this movie any higher!

Film Crazy
Film Crazy

Super Reviewer

A sweeping historical epic like no other. I sometimes forget how amazing films like this are, especially when they are made in the pre-digital era when you couldn't fake stuff, so you had no choice but to hire 19,000 extras and that sort of thing. Okay, that little diversion aside, this is a tremendous and wonderful film chronicling the life of Pu Yi, the last emporor of China before the tumultuous events that led to experiments with being a republic then a communist state. Covering the years of 1908-1967, this film, despite being a bio pic, is really a great glimpse at the history of a country during some very turbulent but fascinating times. In a way it's like a serious Forrest Gump sort of thing, though I don't mean to trivialize this by making that comparison. I've watched both the original and extended "director's cut" (though Bertolucci maintains that the theatrical cut is his prefered version and that the extended cut was just something he assembled for Italian TV) and I think they are both brilliant films. I think I might like the original more though. The extended cut is an hour longer, making the film clock in at 3 hours, 38 minutes, but some of the added material, like extended backstory are pretty good. The bulk of the additions though, are more political machinations and stuff involving Pu Yi in pre-WWII Manchuria. If you are into socio-political issues during this time and place, then the extended cut will probably please you. If not, then you might just want to stick with the original cut. Regardless of the version, this is a gorgeous film filled with excellent cinematography, beautiful costumes wonderful music (the main title theme will forever be stick in my head), and just great artistry. This is an art film that is both mindblowing because of the technique and storytelling, and the story itself. Pu Yi's life was rather tragic, and not just because of the Shakespearean way his empire crumbled around him. At no time did he ever truly have any real power, and it wasn't until most of his life was over that he was finally living without being told what to do. The scenes of his "re-education" are more painful because for him, it wasn't "re" but just regular education. Yet, from a symbolic standpoint, and for the first few years of his life (before the Chinese Revolution), yeah, he was something special. I know that the Chinese government has a certain reputation about them when it comes to portrayals of the country and its history, so it made me happy to know that when Bertolucci approached them with two projects he wanted to shoot in China, this was the one they chose. It's like they knew that telling this story was important, especially because all parts of a country's history deserve to be known to the masses. Plus, this film made history by getting unprecedented access to film all over the Forbidden City, and the results are just great. Well, I've gushed a lot, but I don't thnk this film is perfect. It is long, and sometimes boring, but I found myself so intrigued and moved that I can't really hold any ill will towards it. It was nominated for like 9 Oscars and won them all, and they were definitely deserved. You should definitely give this one a watch. It's quite something.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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