In the summer of 1987, in the 3rd trimester of my first pregnancy, Roland and I saw almost all the movies that came out at that time. Unfortunately, The Last Emperor was released in November of that year when I had a newborn, and seeing a movie that is almost 3 hours long just wasn’t on the agenda.
Having just watched it, I found it a compelling movie, beautifully filmed, and very deserving of the 9 Oscars (everything it was nominated for), the 4 Golden Globes and the many other awards that it won.
A biographical film about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, this film is set in 1950, and is told in flashbacks throughout Puyi’s life starting in 1908 when he was named emperor at age 3, and then in flash-forwards to his death in 1967. Notably, it was the first film that was authorized to be filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing by the People’s Republic of China.
This quote from the movie, spoken by Puyi’s Scottish tutor, Reginald Fleming “R.J.” Johnston, sums up not only Puyi’s early years in the Forbidden City, but his whole life:
The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he’s growing up, he may wonder why he’s the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door. I think the Emperor is the loneliest boy on Earth.
I am not overly familiar with the history of China in the 20th century, and so I found it fascinating to have this history lesson via movie coming from a China-centric viewpoint. I cannot vouch for any historical accuracy.
Watching The Last Emperor on a big screen will only add to the beauty of this film. Alas, I watched the DVD on my computer.