Tuesday, December 30, 2014

1987 - The Last Emperor

Yes, I'm still alive.

Obviously, I've had a lot going on these last few months. The play I mentioned in my last post (over four months ago - yikes!) has come and gone. The Club was our theatre company's final show in New York City (read about it here) before Kat, Charlie and I packed up and moved out west to Los Angeles. It's been a couple of months already so we're settled in now and are not even remotely missing the New York weather.

I figured I should try to squeeze one more review in before the end of the year, so yesterday I watched the film that would take the top prize in the 1987 Best Picture competition...

The Last Emperor
Bernardo Bertolucci
Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci
(based on Henry Pu-yi's autobiography "From Emperor to Citizen")
John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Maggie Han, Ric Young, Vivien Wu
Academy Awards:
9 nominations
9 wins, including Best Picture and Best Director

The monarch of the film's title, Pu-yi (Lone) is a political prisoner in a China he no longer recognises. While his captors interrogate him about his perceived war crimes, Pu-yi remembers his life, from his coronation at the age of two and his confined upbringing inside the Forbidden City where he befriends his British tutor Reginald Johnston (O'Toole) to his association with the Japanese who allow him to return to power as the emperor of occupied Manchukuo.

Without a doubt, The Last Emperor's biggest draw card is its stunning visual style. With luscious production design, lavish costumes and evocative cinematography - including the now iconic shot of a young Pu-yi running towards a billowing yellow curtain (pictured below) - it's no wonder the film won Oscars in almost every design category. Of course, the spectacular locations didn't hurt its cause. Shooting inside the actual Forbidden City certainly lends an air of authenticity.

And while Bertolucci's direction is masterful, his script with co-writer Mark Peploe is perhaps the one element of the film that is lacking. The story itself is incredibly well-structured with its simultaneous past and present storylines but - and I know this is a recurring theme in my reviews - the dialogue is rather basic and straightforward. I'm a sucker for clever dialogue and, unfortunately, the words here are a little uninspired. Then again, the film also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, so what do I know?

The performances seem somewhat stilted, but only because the actors are given such banal things to say, preventing them from really making the words crackle. The Academy perhaps agreed with me since the picture received no acting nominations, which as it turns out, indirectly helped it achieve the rare feat of winning every category in which it was nominated. Nine Oscars from nine nominations - equalling Gigi's identical take and topped only by the 11-from-11 haul by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Interestingly, neither of those films claimed any acting nods either.