The Last Emperor: The Director’s Cut

Extended edition of Bertolucci's lavish 1987 epic

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The Last Emperor tells the story of Pu Yi, installed as Lord Of Ten Thousand Years in 1908 at age three, only for Imperial China to become a republic a few years later. His journey takes him from a cosseted adolescence, walled up in the Forbidden City, to a playboy existence in Tientsin, reinstatement as puppet emperor of Manchuria, then post-war incarceration and eventual rehabilitation as a gardener in Red China.

The story is largely told in colours?the fabulous maroons, golds and yellows of his childhood, the blue-washed near-monochrome of his detention. It’s rich in irony and poignancy. All the same, Pu Yi is too weak, self-centred and uncomprehending a character to fully engage. The attempts to intensify our sympathy for his fate are burdensome. Nearly four hours is, frankly, a bloody long time to wait for the guy to come to his moral senses. The relatively minimalist dialogue doesn’t help, either. Finally, you’re only grateful there’s no sequel.


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