*The Last Emperor (1987)*

emperor

Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Ying Ruocheng, Wu Tao, Tiger Tsou, Peter O’Toole

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Summary: China’s final emperor, Puyi, becomes a pawn of imperial forces, the invading Japanese and the Communist government

Other Nominations: Director*, Adapted Screenplay*, Film Editing*, Original Score*, Sound*, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Costume Design*

This still holds up as one of the better Best Picture winners of the decade. Visually, the movie is quite stunning-it makes great use of color to create moods, the costumes are terrific, and most of all the location shooting stands out as something special (in addition to being the first feature film to be shot in the Forbidden City, they also shot at the palace in Manchuria where Puyi was a puppet emperor). The screenplay is good. I liked the framing story that allows it to jump around to a lot different periods of time without feeling disjointed, and it gives Puyi a solid character arc from arrogant youngster to humbled man. I also liked that it cared enough to have all the Chinese and Japanese characters actually played by Chinese and Japanese actors respectively, whereas a lot of movies would have just settled for “Asian.”

The one complaint I would have is from its screenplay though, First, it does a fair amount of “show” which is good, but it does a lot of “tell”, driving home every point as thoroughly as possible for the audience through direct dialogue. This is a shame, because the visuals and acting already do a good enough job of getting everything across for the audience and we don’t need to kill all subtlety and subtext. Second, while it can’t cover everything in the character’s real life story, it totally cuts everything between 1959 & 1966, a time when some pretty significant things happened with him and you could do a lot with storywise.

Rating: B+

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