The Last Emperor: Director's Cut

1987, PG-13, 219 min. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 25, 1998

This director's cut adds 58 minutes on to Bertolucci's magnificent 1987 original. At the time of its initial release, The Last Emperor snagged nine Academy Awards. All advance word on this new, three-and-a-half hour director's cut reports that the extra hour thoroughly enhances the movie experience by lending more richness to the characters and their times. In 1988, when The Last Emperor first premiered locally, The Austin Chronicle wrote: “Bertolucci's modernist epic is a celebration of the grandeur and resilience of China. The script by Bertolucci and Mark Peploe uses 1950 as the narrative epicenter for the flashbacks that chronicle the life of Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, who assumed the throne in 1908 at age three at the whim of the dying Empress Dowager. Pu Yi is enthroned in the Forbidden City in Peking, and Bertolucci and his brilliant cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and art director Fernando Scarfiotti, given permission to shoot within these once-holy walls, have captured oneiric visions of decor, architecture, and color (vibrant reds, golds, yellows, and blues), all processed in three-strip Technicolor whose magnificent hues we haven't seen in this country in years. The coronation of Pu Yi, the tribal rites and ceremonies, Pu Yi's shadow play with a billowing white sheet, the arrival of the republican warlords in 1912 -- all of these are rendered by Bertolucci's ceaselessly exploring Steadicam, tracking and craning across and around the vast space of the wide screen in its journey to discover the enigma at the center of the drama. … As so eloquently portrayed by Lone, Pu Yi is a man outside history and time, another Bertolucci conformist who wants to retain the monarchy as neurotically as Jean-Louis Trintignant want to retain his “normalcy” in The Conformist (1971). The tragedy of his story, of all history perhaps, is that no one, nothing, ever really changes. This is the enigma at the heart of this magisterial dream of a movie. (Reviewed: 2/12/88; -- George Morris)

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More Bernardo Bertolucci Films
The Dreamers
The NC-17 rating is revived for Bertolucci's fervent ode to cinema and the idealism of youth.

Kimberley Jones, Feb. 20, 2004

The Conformist
Marcello Clerici is the perfect Fascist, because all he's ever wanted to be (ever since a childhood incident that he can't quite remember) is normal ...

Nick Barbaro, March 1, 2001

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Joy Ride
Raunchy road trip goes all the way to China for filthy fun

July 7, 2023

All That Breathes
The struggle by three men to save the endangered black kite

March 31, 2023


The Last Emperor: Director's Cut, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto

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