The Last Emperor (1987)

As I continue to finish up all the Academy Award winners for Best Picture, I got to admit that there was a handful that I dreaded. One of them was The Last Emperor because, at 2:48, I didn’t think I had the patience to sit through a film that did not appeal to me in the least. 

Like they always say, never judge a book by its cover, which is the case with this 1987 Best Picture winner. The Last Emperor follows the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Unfortunately for Puyi, he came to power in 1908, just when the world was changing, and this ancient position was soon to be disregarded. When Puyi turns 10, he learns that China is now a republic with a President, and he is no longer the emperor of his homeland. What sucked the most about his upbringing, besides losing his authority, was the fact he was secluded to the Forbidden City, a place he had grown to despise. 

The Last Emperor is another Oscar winner with a past and present narrative. The majority of the film takes place in the 1950s when Puyi finds himself a political prisoner for his refusal to admit to “crimes” he committed against his homeland. During these interview sequences and subsequent prison life scenes, we get a flashback to his childhood, where the story’s heart lies.

Growing up in a luxurious lifestyle as the “emperor,” fame and fortune go to his head, so naturally, he spends his teenage years courting two ladies (who he eventually marries) and partying hard. Those around him don’t think he’s portraying a good image for his honorary position, which leads to one of his wives left him and the other giving birth to a stillborn. Puyi could have had it all, should he have been fortunate enough to come to power at a different point in history. Instead, he built up a lot of resentment towards those in power.

I found this film to be quite interesting because I knew nothing about this man beforehand. It surprised me that the last emperor could be so quickly disregarded and become an afterthought, especially in a culture that values its own history. 

I managed to make it through the almost three-hour movie because I just had to know what other silly things Puyi would get caught up in. Even without much love or hate for the character, I finished the movie feeling bad for the guy appointed to the country’s highest position only to die as a peasant gardener with nothing to show of his life’s work. 

Even if I recommend The Last Emperor to people, they may bulk at my suggestion. I understand this won’t be for everyone. However, if you love history and are fascinated by Chinese culture, this could be right up your alley. Definitely not the best Oscar winner I’ve ever seen, however far from the worse too. 6/10

(fun fact: The Last Emperor won all nine of the Academy Awards it was nominated for)


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