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The Last Emperor Review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 4.0

    out of 100

    Generally favorable reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    USA Today Mike Clark

    Emperor is like Full Metal Jacket - uneven, fuzzy, imperfect, and one of the reasons the movies were invented. [20 Nov 1987, p.1D]

  • 100

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    It probably is unforgivably bourgeois to admire a film because of its locations, but in the case of The Last Emperor the narrative cannot be separated from the awesome presence of the Forbidden City, and from Bertolucci's astonishing use of locations, authentic costumes and thousands of extras to create the everyday reality of this strange little boy.

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  • 75

    out of 100

    Chicago Tribune Dave Kehr

    A hesitant, conservative approach that yields great elegance and a rhythm that carries the viewer along. Yet the film is haunted by a sense of opportunities not taken, of an artist deliberately reining in his artistry. [9 Dec 1987, p.2]

  • 80

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Julie Salamon

    The movie's considerable emotional force springs from the splendor of its visual poetry. Mr. Bertolucci allows the sweep of 60 years of Chinese history to unfold around Pu Yi as background noise to his peculiar, poignant role in the emergence of modern China. [25 Nov 1987, p.1]

  • 90

    out of 100

    Time Richard Schickel

    Very simply, Bertolucci has found an elegance of design and execution that few of his contemporaries could even dream of. [23 Nov 1987]

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For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 15+

Beautiful Chinese biography is too long, mature for tweens.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this nearly four-hour film, covering six decades of Chinese history, contains some violent scenes, including a bloody attempted suicide, an execution-style murder with a direct gunshot to the head, and brutal newsreel footage from World War II. There are numerous scenes depicting opium use and its effects. Bare breasts are revealed as a baby and then a young child is nursed several times. Sexual activity includes a young couple kissing and exploring their clothed bodies on their wedding night; a carefully-shot sequence showing a married couple along with the couple's "second wife" engaging in foreplay beneath a satin coverlet; and an extended lesbian toe-sucking scene while the two women involved smoke opium. For older teens it offers a substantially accurate look at China during the last century, and accomplishes the rare feat of bringing history vibrantly to life.

  • Families can talk about the movie's style. How did the back-and-forth structure, from the prison camp to the past, help you understand what happened to Pu Yi?
  • What events were most significant in changing Pu Yi's view of the world?
  • This film is an example of moving-making that increases our knowledge and interest in history and other cultures. What other movies have you seen that have been able to do that? What resources are available to you if you want to learn more?
  • Why do you think the director and artists used the color red so extensively in the sets, costumes, and scenery? What feelings does it evoke?

The good stuff
  • message true2

    Messages: Pampering and overindulgence can create selfishness and an unrealistic self-image, and can lead to great mistakes. Making decisions should be based on thoughtful analysis, not on emotional whims.

  • rolemodels true1

    Role models: The last emperor learns important lessons, though too late to change the course of his life.  His wife, the empress, starts out with honest and decent aspirations, but ultimately succumbs to the excesses and tyranny of the emperor's lifestyle.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: An unsuccessful suicide attempt: wrists slashed, blood gushes into water-filled sink.  A man is victim of flogging. The young emperor kills his pet mouse by throwing it against a wall. A household servant accused of betrayal is killed by a direct shot to the head. There's an angry confrontation between students and an armed military unit. Political prisoners are treated harshly and forced to confess by ruthless guards. Additionally, there are multiple newsreel scenes of a violent war and its aftermath, including shootings, piles of bodies, graphic shots of children wounded.

  • sex false3

    Sex: In a gentle wedding night scene, a bride and groom kiss and begin to caress and undress each other. A man and his wife and his female "consort" engage in sexual activity in bed under a satin cover. A suggestion of lesbianism culminates with two women mutually aroused by "toe-sucking" while smoking opium. The emperor's staff is primarily made up of eunuchs, who upon occasion are seen carrying their testicles in jars. Several shots of a wet nurse breast-feeding a baby. A small boy is shown naked.

  • language false2

    Language: One use of the "f" word near the end of the film.

  • consumerism false1

    Consumerism: Mention of Bayer aspirin and Wrigley gum.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: There are a number of images of opium dens. Two women smoke opium while sexually stimulating each other. The empress appears to be under the influence of opium in multiple sequences.