Writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci’s bio-pic of China’s last emperor Pu-Yi is a visual masterpiece.
Bertolucci bounces back and forth through time to tell Pu-Yi’s story from birth in 1906 to his death in 1967. You are given flashbacks of his experiences of being practically worshipped as a god by his own people, with power hungry Japan before and during World War II and his imprisonment by the Communists in 1950.
Crowned at age three, he is spoiled rotten by the eunuchs and wet nurse that care for him. Under an agreement during a revolution, Pu-Yi is allowed to keep his throne but is confined to the Forbidden City.
His teen years and the educational tutoring by Scotsman Reginald Johnston, played nicely by Peter O’Toole, are fascinating and set the tone of a man imprisoned by his status and an over-inflated sense of destiny.
Bertolucci’s failure is an inability to connect you to the character and the social flavor of the times. Even in the extended director’s cut Bertolucci doesn’t get you very deep.
Others will see it differently. The Last Emperor won nine Oscars in 1988. It didn’t resonate in the acting categories but it was 1987’s best of everything else: picture, director, writer, cinematography, sets, and on the list goes.
At 160 minutes — 220 for the director’s cut — The Last Emperor is too long. In spite of that, history buffs and those in love with cinematography, sets, costumes and the like will find the film is a nice ending for the Battelle Film Club’s spring series.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, brief nudity, drugs use, violence. It plays Friday, May 29 only at 8 p.m. at the Battelle Auditorium.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.