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Film / The Last Emperor

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"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."
Reginald Johnston

A 1987 film directed and co-written by Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor was the biopic of Pu-Yi, The Last Emperor of China. Its story, based on his autobiography, tells how Pu-Yi ascended to the throne at the age of three. In his brief reign, he was confined to the Forbidden City, not knowing of the world of his people. When he is forced to abdicate at nine, the rest of Pu-Yi's life is one of desolation and impoverishment. After serving as the ruler of a Japanese puppet government of China during World War II, he becomes a political prisoner of the Soviets and then of the Communist Chinese. When finally released in the 1960's, Pu-Yi dies in obscurity...

This proved very successful at the Oscars, winning all nine of its nominations, including Best Picture, tying the record set by Gigi nearly thirty years earlier.


This work features examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Question: Pu Yi lashes out noting that everyone wanted to use him all his life and even the Communists are no different, trying to make him a useful citizen. To which the governor replies:
    "Is that so bad? To be useful?"
  • Artistic License – Biology: There is no way in hell a cricket could live that long, especially in a closed container without food or water.
  • As You Know: The governor helpfully tells Pu-Yi, and the audience, that the Japanese put a puppet state in Manchuria called Manchukuo and even tells the date, even though Pu Yi knew all that because he was there at the time.
  • Gilded Cage: The Forbidden City.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The film depicts young Pu-Yi as a spoiled, but frightened and not overly bad child. The real Pu-Yi was quite the Enfante Terrible. He took sadistic delight in having his eunuchs flogged for the pettiest of reasons; made them eat dirt; and, on one occasion, after a eunuch put on a puppet show for him, Pu-Yi, despite having enjoyed the performance, intended to "reward" the eunuch by giving him a cake laced with iron just so he could see how the man's body would react when he ate it—thankfully, Pu-Yi's wet nurse talked him out of it.
  • Hot Consort: Two of them, Empress Wang Rong and First Concubine Wen Xiu. It doesn't go well, in the end.
  • How We Got Here: The film starts as Pu-Yi returns to China as a prisoner and it works its way backwards.
  • Important Haircut: Pu-Yi gets rid of his Manchu Queue.
  • Kicked Upstairs: What the movie doesn't say is that, after getting deposed, Pu-Yi is put on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a multi-party "advisory body" to the Chinese Government.
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Pu-Yi.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: For trying to sincerely mentor Pu-Yi into rehabilitation, the prison governor is taken captive by the Red Guard in the 1960s to subject him for re-education and public humiliation.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Pu-Yi wanted a modern wife who could follow the new dances and was educated outside China. He found her in Wang Rong. But it didn't last.
  • Polyamory: Pu-Yi marries Wan Rong and has Wen Xiu as his First Concubine, and things don't go very well.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few furs, like those worn by the consorts.
  • Puppet King: Pu-Yi as the emperor of Manchukuo.
  • Puppet State: Manchukuo.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Unlike his radical and vengeful comrades, the overseer of the prison where Pu-Yi was incarcerated was more kind and helpful in trying to reform Pu-Yi.
  • Re-Cut: A version prepared for television reinstated a hour's worth of footage cut for the theatrical version. Unlike some extended versions of films, Bertolucci considers the shorter version as his director's cut.
  • Royal "We": Pu-Yi when emperor of Manchukuo.
  • Scenery Porn: It was filmed in the Forbidden City itself.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Attempted by Pu-Yi in the beginning to kick off the story.
  • Take Over the World: The Japanese make clear their goal of conquering Korea, China, Indochina and India.
  • Translation Convention: The majority of on-screen dialogue from Chinese characters is in English, while text and background dialogue not immediately pertaining to the plot are in Mandarin.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Trope Namer. The title character violently throws his beloved pet mouse offscreen. There's no sound of the mouse hitting anything, but it's never seen again in the theatrical cut, leaving its fate ambiguous. The Extended Cut released on DVD, though, does answer the question. The answer: About what you'd expect when a mouse is thrown against a wall... (The mouse used for the shot was not real and no mice were injured in making the film.)
  • White Man's Burden: Peter O'Toole as wise tutor Reginald Johnston.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Bad times for Wan Rong and her love child.


Example of: