I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Last Emperor, 1987

Rated PG-13

I didn’t particularly enjoy this movie. It took me several days to finish, which is never a good sign. I didn’t think it was that captivating and I had a lot of questions that arose when watching it. Many of them I’m sure came from the sad fact that I know very little of Chinese history, culture, and government. But it just wasn’t a movie that excited me, and I’m realizing by looking at other reviews, that I am in the minority.

This historical epic is the true story of Pu Yi, who became the last emperor of China at the age of three. The film spans almost sixty years and is told in flashback form. This is as much as I understood of the storyline: not long after he is installed as Emperor, China becomes a Republic, but Pu Yi is to remain “protected” in the Forbidden City. He develops a trusting friendship with his Scottish tutor played by Peter O’Toole*. Pu Yi decides to marry (two wives) and as an adult, clears the palace of corrupt employees (?) who have been stealing and basically holding him prisoner. The City gets invaded and Pu Yi goes to Japan. But then he goes back to Manchuria, which is now called Manchukuo, and I got the impression he is some kind of political pawn and that he really has no power anymore. (This is now during World War II.) They’re then invaded by the Russians and he is taken prisoner for treason and conspiracy (…I think, but I don’t know why or if it’s true). After years of rehabilitation, he is released as a citizen into Communist China and works as a gardener. He visits his temple in the Forbidden City as a tourist one last time before his death.

So if that storyline intrigues you or you know so much more about it than I, please feel free to watch it and let me know what you think. As I said before, I was somewhat bored and confused. There were so many things I just didn’t understand. Why was a three year old appointed Emperor in the first place? Why, when he grew up in the Forbidden City, was he sheltered from the new government that was being formed outside the City walls? Why was he accused of being a traitor? I also didn’t understand why as a ten year old, he still needed a wet nurse…. that is an image that continues to haunt me. Another scene of confusion: Before being clued in that the Empress is addicted to opium, we see her sit down and start eating flowers in the middle of a party… greens and all. I didn’t know if this was a type of edible plant in Japan and normal in their culture or if she was just going crazy and suffering from some adult-form of Pica Syndrome.

I get the impression this film was kind of a big deal. I’ll give it props for being the only film ever to be filmed within the walls of the Forbidden City in China. It also had 19,000 extras and 9,000 costumes, so that’s impressive. But “The Last Emperor” walked away from the award show with a clean sweep! It received awards for nine of its nine nominations. Only two other films have accomplished that: “Lord of the Rings” in ‘03 and “Gigi” in ’58.

I don’t think this was an especially fantastic year for movies. It was up against “Broadcast News” (haven’t seen it but it won NO awards), “Fatal Attraction” (which I know is popular but I haven’t seen it; it also won NO awards), “Hope and Glory” (haven’t seen it but it won NO awards), and “Moonstruck” (which I also haven’t seen but know that Cher infamously yells, “Snap out of it!” and slaps Nicolas Cage in it; it won only three awards). “Good Morning Vietnam” (which, surprise!, I haven’t seen) was also made this year but not up for Best Picture. If I could go back in time, I would pull a Kanye and pull the microphone away from the winner and announce that I thought “The Princess Bride” should’ve won!

*I can’t believe I didn’t recognize Peter O’Toole from “Lawrence of Arabia”… my, how twenty-five years can change a face! But my husband immediately recognized him as the voice of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille”. (I love my hubby a little more for that detection.)


No scene stood out as my favorite, but anytime a grand shot like this was shown, it was hard not to be in awe.

I also could’ve reached into the film and kissed his Majesty’s cheeks to death in the beginning. He’s so smooshy.


Don’t trust politicians. (Pretty sure I learned that lesson in “All the King’s Men”.)

Three year olds can’t affectively run the country. This is not news to me as I have a three year old, but apparently China learned that lesson.

1 comment:

  1. when i first saw this film, i was also confused, especially with the flash back style of story-telling. it is tricky to watch historic films; how to mark which part is fictional and which is faithful to historical accounts... however, i still enjoyed this film. most memorable for me is that scene, when in old age, he visits his throne room. it gives an impression on how change can be so drastic for some people. from living a life of someone referred to as the "Son of Heaven", going through such upheavals brought by war, and then finally resigning life as an ordinary citizen.