The Last Emperor is another one of those long epics the Academy loves to honour and Oscar fans like to complain about. Well, since I am a fan of these long epics it is no surprise that the movie made it this high on my list. The Last Emperor tells the story of Puyi, a young boy who was Emperor of China but only became a puppet in the hands of history.
Apart from Peter O’Toole, The Last Emperor doesn’t feature any Hollywood stars but the cast is still very strong. The different actors who play Puyi all work very well to show the insecurity, the arrogance, the despair and the determination of a man who wants to create his own fate but ultimately fails. Peter O’Toole, obviously, shines as the English mentor.
The cast creates some almost mysterious characters that live in a world of its own, separated from the rest of the world by high walls. It’s a splendid and epic film that still keeps an almost claustrophobic atmosphere by the closed area of the Forbidden City. Still, almost every second of the movie provides so many wonderful moments that nothing in The Last Emperor ever feels limited. Scenes like the sexual games between Puyi and two women under their silk sheets while a fire is slowly starting to change the colour of the room, Puyi and his new bride kissing while hands out of nowhere begin to undress them, Russian parachutists filling the sky right to the last moment when Puyi, as an old man, tries to convince a little boy that once he was the Emperor of China are of a stunning beauty.
The Last Emperor is able to tell a story of people conquered by history with the means of a private character study and a grand epic at the same time.