I wanted to like this movie. I really wanted to like this movie. As it turns out, though, this is one of those select few films that drag in the beginning and the end, yet are compelling in the middle. I suppose that’s a risk you run when you make a movie based on a true story. Dramatize too much, and you lose what made the real events special. Dramatize too little� and you get a documentary with icing on top. Unfortunately, this turns out to be the latter.
John Lone is excellent as Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China, and Ruocheng Ying provides an excellent counterpart as the governor of the detention center in which most of the non-flashback parts of the movie are told. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of the movie explores the dynamic between these two great characters, and instead flashbacks to a beautifully filmed, yet ultimately boring, history lesson.
I’m not sure how many times I thought to myself, What the hell? What the fuck are they doing?, only to give up and wait for an explanation that would never come. To compound the confusion, secondary characters in the film speak Chinese almost exclusively (with no English subtitles), which makes the chanting paraders and other extras all the less interesting. Less inexplicable rituals and less time spent viewing cultural events that have no bearing on the main story would have probably served well to cut down on the excessive 3:28 running time.
To sum up, more Victor Wong, more Peter O’Toole, and less Joan Chen and her lesbain pilot lover. The better bet is probably the book featured in the film itself, Twilight in the Forbidden City, by P O’T’s real-life counterpart, Reginald F. Johnston.
:: 1987 :: dir. Bernardo Bertolucci ::
DVD features include the theatrical trailer, production notes, and some really ugly-ass menus.