Everything that was good about the 163-minute theatrical release of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor in 1987 is even better in this new 218-minute director's cut. By contrast, much that was peculiarly distant and lifeless the first time aroun
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Everything that was good about the 163-minute theatrical release of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor in 1987 is even better in this new 218-minute director's cut. By contrast, much that was peculiarly distant and lifeless the first time around isn't really better or worse in this edition. Conclusion: the net gains are considerable if you invest time to appreciate Bertolucci's full feeling for the odd story of Pu Yi, China's final monarch. You remember the saga: taken from his mother at the age of three, Pu Yi is brought into the enclosed walls of the Forbidden City to replace the real emperor. There he becomes a pampered prisoner and hollow symbol of an older monarchy that has since given way to a ruthless, 20th century republic. With his pining loyalists beheaded or kept at bay by armed soldiers outside the City's walls, Pu Yi is tutored by an English gentleman (Peter O'Toole) and wed to a kindred spirit (Joan Chen). Eventually cast from his gated paradise, Pu Yi (wonderfully portrayed in adulthood by John Lone) becomes, by turns, a playboy, a dupe to the Japanese, and a victim of China's cultural reforms and re-education programs. This longer cut largely top-loads the film with greater reason to feel compassion for the emperor, with his often wordless sense-adventure in the mysteries that could only be known to one little boy plunged into indecipherable alien decorum, robbed of self-determination and common sense by his infinite privilege. Added scenes (including some in the political rehabilitation camp where Pu Yi is held for a decade) fill out not so much added facts as density of experience. This improved The Last Emperor is richer in soul and a pronounced sense of Bertolucci actually directing this film in the most personal and profound sense. --Tom Keogh
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