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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Last Emperor (1987)

The Last Emperor was a major award winning epic movie, released in 1987, and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, and written by Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci. The movie had some unique distinctions - the Chinese Government allowed shooting in the Forbidden City and gave him unprecedented access (to the extent that when the British Queen visited Beijing, the movie got precedence in The Forbidden City). This was also because the movie mirrored the history of China during the earlier half of the century, and in a form that did not go the vision of history as per the Communist rulers. And the movie cleaned up at the Oscars, being nominated for 9 awards and winning all 9 of them (if that is not a clean sweep :-), then what is ?)

The Last Emperor (1987)

The movie is indeed about the Last Emperor in China, who lived a sheltered life in the Forbidden City, but who also experience the tumultuous years of Chinese history, including the occupation by the Japanese and the atrocities committed in Manchuria, and then moving forward to the Cultural Revolution in the 1960's, finally terminating at a time when western tourists are free to visit Beijing (symbolizing China's opening to the World).
The movie starts with the time when the Emperor, Puyi, is returning to China after 5 years of captivity by the Soviet Union (held in the gulag, and as a prisoner after a trial by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal; the movie is totally silent about this time). He was convicted for complicity in the Japanese War Crimes in the Chinese region of Manchuria after being arrested by the Red Army. Given that there was solidarity among the Communist Governments in the beginning, Stalin decided to hand Puyi back to China after it was taken over by the Communists in 1949 (even though Puyi wrote to Stalin pleading not to be sent back).
Once he reaches back to China, Puyi attempts suicide, and in this state, the movie shows his initial history; his sheltered life in the Forbidden City including his marriage and other incidents, and moves onto his prison camp where he learns the extent of Japanese atrocities and accepts responsibility for his complicity in these war crimes. The movie then moves onto the Cultural Revolution of the 60's where Puyi is now a normal citizen, a gardener (also showing the happenings of that time where people could be condemned as not being part of the revolution, and in which many of China's intellectuals suffered). The movie moves on further, showing Puyi now visiting the Forbidden City as a tourist, watching the throne on which he used to sit once, until finally the movie ends with a scene where western tourists are displayed the same scene, and in that sequence, the death of the Emperor is also mentioned.

Oscars won by the movie:
- Best Picture,
- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration,
- Best Cinematography,
- Best Costume Design,
- Best Director,
- Best Film Editing,
- Best Music (Original Score),
- Best Sound and
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

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