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The Last Emperor: Director's Cut

It won nine Oscars in 1987, but at the time Bertolucci's epic life of Harry Pu Yi seemed like a beautiful but hollow Fabergé egg. Storaro's majestic camera movements, the vast sway of the crowds of eunuchs or Red Guards and the opulent golden splendour of the intoxicating design were impressive trappings for the story of a passive, unsympathetic and hardly comprehending victim of the cruel ironies of history's forward march. Viewed 16 years on, one is reminded that it was made before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, and Peploe's script can be more clearly appreciated for its prescient, elegiac quality, more evident in this 227-minute cut, which contrasts more clearly the grey tones of Pu Yi's Communist 're-education' with his serial imprisonment within the ochre walls of the Forbidden City or the marble sarcophagus of his puppet throne in Manchuria. With its slow metronomic editing, Byrne and Sakomoto's score, the lack of histrionics (especially in Lone's surprisingly dignified Emperor), the film exudes a sorrowful, meditative quality, which justifies its seeming political remove and the director's abandonment of his earlier challenging aesthetics in favour of a more accessible, 'populist' symbolism. Do films tell of their times? The Last Emperor, having lost its Oscar crown to the heroics of The Return of the King, reminds us of a more ambivalent take on history and fate, and is the richer for it.

Release details

Duration: 227 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Screenwriter: Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci
Cast: John Lone
Joan Chen
Peter O'Toole
Ying Ruocheng
Victor Wong
Dennis Dun
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Lisa Lu
Chen Kaige
Zhang Jungxiang
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