Friday, March 26, 2010

The Last Emperor (1987)

This film was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1987, six years after his previous film. It's about a boy named Puyi who was made emperor of China when he was 3 years old. And it's really good. It was the first time ever that a film was given permission to shoot footage inside of the Forbidden City, the actual place where this guy lived.

Puyi is made emperor of China in 1908, when he is just three years old. But it's just out of convenience really, China now has a president who controls the show. Puyi can do what ever he wants except leave the grounds of the Forbidden City. Why? I don't know. Powerful people like to make rules like this. So at 7 years old (big word alert) he abdicates the thrown. So he gives up what little power he had, which was like none. A Scottish tutor, played by Peter O'Toole, arrives to educate the boy on all of life's lessons. He's a worldly knowing type, whereas Puyi only knows about the goings on of his prison like home. So Puyi is impressed by the tutor, and now wants to "spread his wings" and fly the coop. He wants to be a modern man with a modern wife who can dance.

When Puyi is in his 20s he is forced to leave the Forbidden City. So happy days, that's what he wanted. He moves to Japan, because the emperor there is the same age as him and they become buddy buddy with each other. Puyi turns into that "Asian trying to be a Westerner type" and we see him with a western style haircut, he refers to his wife now as Elizabeth, and we see him in a tux leaning against a piano crooning to some hip western tune.

Japan has an agenda going meanwhile. They want to take over Manchuria from the Russians, as a strategic base for when they bomb the Chinese. They're gonna set up Puyi(Manchuria was his birthplace) as a puppet ruler. Puyi thinks that the Japanese are just doing him a good turn. When this happens(alot of Chinese are killed under Puyi's "return" in the process), the Japanese slowly start to take more and more control of the running of things. Puyi got played. Then the Russians land and take Puyi as prisoner. Things rapidly go downhill for ol Pu man. He's transferred as a war criminal into Chinese hands, where he will enter a re-education camp.

So he's being re-educated as well as being interrogated in this camp, and the story of his life is told through these long flashbacks that make up the entire film. It really is brilliantly done. John Lone does a great job portraying Puyi from the age of 20 or so on. The scenery is really amazing. The constant yellow and red colouring of the Chin Dynasty is seen throughout his childhood, and the flushed out colour of his time in the prison camp gives you that depressed, sick of life, everything is terrible feeling. The costumes are brilliant and really make you feel like you're seeing the real thing. The only complaint is that the Chinese spoke plain English. I can read subtitles! Make them talk Chinese and let it be authentic!! But I got over that soon as this is a really awesome film!

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