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The Last Emperor: Wikis


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The Last Emperor

Promotional poster of The Last Emperor.
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Produced by Jeremy Thomas
Written by Mark Peploe
Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring John Lone
Joan Chen
Peter O'Toole
Ruocheng Ying
Victor Wong
Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto
David Byrne
Cong Su
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Editing by Gabriella Cristiani
Studio Hemdale
Recorded Picture Company
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) United States:
November 18, 1987
Running time 160 minutes (theatrical)
218 minutes (television)
Country China
United Kingdom
Language English
Mandarin Chinese
Budget $23.8 million[1]

The Last Emperor is a biopic about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, whose autobiography was the basis for the screenplay written by Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci. Independently produced by Jeremy Thomas, it was directed by Bertolucci and released in 1987 by Columbia Pictures. Puyi's life is depicted from his ascension to the throne as a small boy to his imprisonment and political rehabilitation by the Chinese Communist authorities.

The film stars John Lone as Puyi, with Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Maggie Han, Ric Young, Vivian Wu, and Chen Kaige. It was the first feature film for which the producers were authorized by the Chinese government to film in the Forbidden City in Beijing.[1] It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.



The film opens in 1950 with Pǔyí's re-entry into the just-proclaimed People's Republic of China as a prisoner and war criminal, having been captured by the Red Army when the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War in 1945 (see Soviet invasion of Manchuria) and put under Soviet custody for five years. Puyi attempts suicide which only renders him unconscious, and in a flashback, apparently triggered as a dream, Puyi relives his first entry, with his wet nurse, into the Forbidden City.

The next section of the film is a series of chronological flashbacks showing Pǔyí's early life: from his royal upbringing, to the tumultuous period of the early Chinese Republic, to his subsequent exile, his Japanese-supported puppet reign of Manchukuo, and then his capture by the Russian army - all of which are intermixed with flash-forwards portraying his prison life. There, Puyi is shown newsreels of Japanese war crimes in Manchuria and the defeat of Japan, and he realizes his need to assume responsibility for his complicity in Japanese atrocities.

The concluding section of the film ends with a flash-forward to the mid-1960s during the Mao cult and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Released from prison as a "reformed citizen", Pǔyí has become a gardener who lives a proletarian existence. On his way home from work, he happens upon a Mao parade, complete with children playing pentatonic music on accordions en masse and dancers who dance the rejection of landlordism by the masses, aroused by rectified Mao thought. His prison camp commander is one of the "dunces" punished as insufficiently revolutionary in the parade.

Puyi then visits the Forbidden City as an ordinary tourist, and meets an assertive little boy who wears the red scarf of the Pioneer Movement. The boy demands that Pǔyí step away from the throne. However, Puyi proves to the little boy that he was indeed the Son of Heaven; as he sits on his old throne, he finds the cricket he kept as a pet as a child, and gives it to the little boy - the cricket is still alive after 60 years. The little boy turns to thank Puyi, but sees that the Emperor has disappeared.

The film ends with a tour guide leading a tour in front of the throne. The guide encapsulates Pǔyí's life in a few sentences and informs the tourists of his date of death.



Bernardo Bertolucci proposed the film to the Chinese government as one of two possible projects - the other was an adaptation of La Condition Humaine by André Malraux. The Chinese preferred this project. During filming of the immense coronation scene in the Forbidden City, Queen Elizabeth II was in Beijing on a state visit. The production was given priority over her by the Chinese authorities and she was therefore unable to visit the Forbidden City.

Producer Jeremy Thomas managed to raise the $25 million budget for his independent production single-handedly.

19,000 extras were needed over the course of the film.

The Buddhist lamas who appear in the film could not be touched by women, so extra male wardrobe helpers were hired to dress them.


The film was originally released by Columbia Pictures, although they were initially reluctant, and producer Jeremy Thomas had to raise a large sum of the budget independently, and only after shooting finished did the head of Columbia Pictures agree to distribute The Last Emperor in North America.[1] Columbia later lost the rights when it reached home video through Nelson Entertainment, which released the film on VHS and Laserdisc. Years later, Artisan Entertainment acquired the rights to the film and released both the theatrical and extended versions on home video. In February 2008 the Criterion Collection (under license from now-rights-holder Jeremy Thomas) released a four disc Director-Approved edition, again containing both theatrical and extended versions.[2] Criterion released a Blu-ray version on January 6, 2009.[3]

The Last Emperor had an unusual run in theaters. It did not enter the weekend box office top 10 until its twelfth week in which the film reached #7 after increasing its gross by 168% from the previous week and more than tripling its theater count (this was the weekend before it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture). Following that week, the film lingered around the top 10 for 8 weeks before peaking at #4 in its 22nd week (the weekend after winning the Oscar) (increasing its weekend gross and theater count by 306% and nearly doubling its theater count) and spending 6 straight weeks in the weekend box office top 10.[4] Were it not for this late push, The Last Emperor would have joined The English Patient and Amadeus as the only Best Picture winners to not enter the weekend box office top 5 since these numbers were first recorded in 1982.


The film won all nine of the Academy Awards for which it was nominated. Along with Best Picture, it also won Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

This film was also the first (and only, throughout the 1980s) PG-13-rated Academy Award winner for Best Picture in the United States.

The film also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

Historical inaccuracies and omissions

Some characters in the movie (such as Pǔyí's Japanese handler) are composites of actual characters, but most of the characters and the incidents correspond to actual people and events that occurred in Pǔyí's life. Pǔyí's younger brother, Pujie, and Li Wenda, who helped Pǔyí write his autobiography, were brought in as advisors on the film.

Any reference to or mention of the period from 1945 to 1950 is completely absent from the film. It was during this time that Puyi was held as a gulag prisoner by Stalin's Soviet Union. It was also during this time that he gave testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. When Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong had come to power in 1949, Puyi wrote letters to Stalin requesting not to be sent back to China. However, because Stalin wished to warm his relations with his "new political friend" Mao, he repatriated the former emperor in 1950.

Any reference or mention of Pǔyí's later wives and other concubines (such as Tan Yuling, Li Yuqin, and Li Shuxian) with whom he was together after 1937 is also missing from the film. Furthermore, the film shows intimacy between Puyi and his wives/concubines, where the historical record indicates that there was none.

In the film, the driver who impregnates the Empress is named "Chang" and he is shot. In reality, his name was Li Tieh-yu and Puyi did not have him killed, he allowed him to leave.

Alternate versions

The film's theatrical release ran 160 minutes. An extended version currently available on DVD runs 218 minutes; cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and director Bernardo Bertolucci have confirmed that this version was created for television and does not represent a "director's cut".[5] The television cut includes more footage from the stifling palace of Manchukuo. An entire character cut from the theatrical release is the drug-addled opium pusher appointed Minister of Defense by the Japanese, who becomes a sort of demon when he surfaces in Pǔyí's prison camp, whispering the awful truth to Puyi at night. In addition, the extra footage shows more detail about the way in which Pǔyí was unable to take care of his own needs without servants.

The television cut was never seen domestically on U.S. television. Worldvision Enterprises (now CBS Television Distribution), under license from Nelson Entertainment (which owned the rights to the film at one point) used the theatrical cut for U.S. TV syndication, albeit edited to fit a three-hour (with commercials) time slot. It was only after Artisan Entertainment acquired the rights to the film for theatrical re-release for a brief time that American audiences finally saw the long version (Artisan, now Lionsgate, has since lost their share of the rights to the film's producer, Jeremy Thomas, now the licensee for the film for all media).

The Japanese distributor of the film elected to remove stock footage of the Nanking Massacre from the film's initial theatrical release in that country. This footage was restored to later editions after complaints were lodged by the director.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Love And Respect, Hollywood-Style, an April 1988 article by Richard Corliss in Time
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Weekend box office numbers from Box Office Mojo
  5. ^ Kim Hendrickson (2008-01-03). "Final Cut". The Criterion Collection - From the Current. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
Rain Man
Preceded by
Jean de Florette
BAFTA Award for Best Film
Succeeded by
Dead Poets Society
Preceded by
Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama
Succeeded by
Rain Man

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