Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best Picture: "The Last Emperor," 1987

Movie Stats:
Released 1987 (Japan)
Chinese, Italian, British & French (according to IMDB), in English with some Mandarin (both translated and not), some Japanese (both translated and not), and very minimal non-translated Russian
Director – Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars – John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, plus many other actors you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
It’s the story of Puyi (Lone as the adult version), the last emperor of China. Chen co-stars as his wife, the empress Wan Jung, and O’Toole as Reginald Johnston, adolescent Puyi’s Scottish tutor.

Very brief nudity (female breasts, all of a young male child). A scene that bordered way too close to pedophilia for my comfort (oddly enough, not related to the scene of a naked child). There was little violence, but when there was it was pretty graphic. One random f-bomb toward the end of the movie.

Bad Stuff:
Boy, where to start?

First off, it was confusing. I don’t have a strong grasp of Chinese history and this movie didn’t really improve it. In particular, the stuff during WWII, when Puyi collaborated with the Japanese, was baffling. In one scene, after a Japanese official’s suicide, my husband asked, “Who was that?” I replied, “One of the Japanese guys.” He said, “You don’t know which one?” I said, “I’m not sure they ever said?” There were just too many people whose names/titles were never really explained, or at least weren't explained well.

Secondly, the movie never got me to care enough about the characters to be concerned about their fates. Perhaps that’s related to problem #1.

Thirdly, I hated that it was in English. It felt wrong, almost borderline offensive. I would’ve preferred it be in Mandarin with subtitles.

Lastly, I didn’t like O’Toole’s character. He sort of came in with this smug, “white guy knows best” attitude. It was a real turn off, and also kind of offensive. Besides, if the movie is to be believed, most of what he encouraged his charge to think and do is what got Puyi in trouble later in life.

Good Stuff:
The costumes and make-up were beautiful.

The cinematography was great.

I guess the acting was good, especially from the children, but all the bad stuff detracted from it.

The Verdict:
I say don’t bother watching it. I was so bored and confused partway through that I looked up Puyi online and started reading about his life. That was far more interesting than this movie.

I give it 2 stars.


Patricia said...

I am constantly confusing this movie with the one with Christian Bale in it. I have seen neither, which is probably the problem.

When I watched "The Bridges of Madison County" it was so slow I started to read reviews of it before the movie was over. What were people thinking? Much more interesting to research than watching the movie itself.

balyien said...

That's because the Christian Bale movie came out the same year as this one, is called "Empire of the Sun" and is also set in China during WWII. Easy to confuse. And it's also kind of boring (although if I had to choose one of these to watch again, I'd go with Empire of the Sun).