The Last Emperor (1987) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

As of 2019, one of the most controversial aspects about film-making is representing cultures that are as diverse as movie-going audiences. Hollywood is currently doing its best to present a wide variety of characters in its films, but there is still an issue about how movies display Asian culture. Historically, only three Asian-American performers have won Oscars for acting, who are: Miyoshi Umeki for Sayonara (1957), Ben Kingsley for Gandhi (1982), and Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields (1984). In spite of this racial issue, one of the greatest films of all time dealt directly with Chinese history, which is appropriately titled The Last Emperor since Pu Yi really was the last emperor to rule China.

A Toast

The recipient of nine Academy Awards, The Last Emperor was the first film to have a clean sweep at the Oscars since Gigi (1958). Coincidentally, both films won nine Oscars even though they are stylistically different. Gigi could be viewed as a Western musical while The Last Emperor is an Eastern historical epic.  It is also notably one of the few motion pictures that was partially filmed in China’s Forbidden City. No matter what race or ethnicity of the main characters in any film, though, masterful storytelling and artistic merit are reasons why films win accolades, and The Last Emperor had just that.  Bernardo Bertolucci might have passed away in 2018, but his film legacy endures thanks to this film as well as the highly controversial film Last Tango in Paris (1972). This director really knew how to honor the enduring legacy of China’s last emperor, and his film remains one of the most celebrated “Best Picture” winners of all time.


The critical and commercial success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 reveal how Hollywood is trying to be more inclusive in terms of what viewers see while watching films. Crazy Rich Asians and Disney’s Mulan (1998) might have had comedic elements while focusing on Asian culture, but The Last Emperor is a film that feels like an eastern historical drama told with a Western perspective. The world might have changed a lot ever since the reign of Pu Yi, but his legacy lives on thanks to the directorial genius of one of the greatest directors the world has ever known.

The Last Emperor (1987) Bonus Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every lavish silk costume

Take a Drink: every time Pu Yi encounters a major milestone throughout his personal development

Drink a Shot: every time the name “Pu Yi” is spoken

And Cheers: to what is possibly Bernardo Bertolucci’s magnum opus!

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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