Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Last Emperor (1987)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Last Emperor (1987, UK/It./China/HK)

In Bernardo Bertolucci's visionary Best Picture-winning epic, an epic biography about the life of Pu Yi, the last imperial ruler of China, told in flashback:

  • the sight of the last emperor of the Qing dynasty - 3 year-old child emperor Pu Yi (Richard Vuu as 3 years old), who ascended to the "Dragon Throne" in 1908 when pronounced the new emperor by the dying Empress Dowager Cixi (Lisa Lu) - "I have decided that you will be the new Lord of Ten-Thousand years. You will be the Son of Heaven"; he toddled out beyond a billowing yellow curtain to view outside the palace throne room the lined-up hordes of supporters, eunuchs and ritualistic worshippers
  • the young boy's interest in a cricket pet given to him by an elderly Mandarin on his coronation day - becoming "the Emperor's Cricket"
  • the scenes of the fixated young boy (up until age 10) being wet-nursed (breast-fed) by Ar Mo (Jade Go)
  • the scene of the teenaged emperor riding his bicycle to the outer gate and being forbidden to leave the imprisoning Forbidden City walls
  • the young emperor's Western-style tutoring beginning in 1919 by Scot Reginald 'R.J.' Johnston (Peter O'Toole), a faithful yet ascerbic gentleman, who realized how imprisoned the emperor had become: ("The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he's growing up, he may wonder why he's the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door. I think the Emperor is the loneliest boy on Earth"); and later the scene of their final goodbye in the back seat of a vehicle before Johnston boarded a ship
  • the scene of preparations for his marriage to a modern woman (who knew the latest dance steps and was educated outside of China) - in which he unveiled his arranged marriage partner Wan Jung (Joan Chen) after which she smothered him with lipstick-kisses all over his bald head - and later in a polygamous arrangement, shared his bed with a second wife - concubine/consort Wen Hsiu (Vivian Wu, aka Wu Jun Mei) (as they explored each other's bodies under a silk sheet)
  • the scene of tuxedo-clad ex-emperor Pu Yi (John Lone) as an exiled, decadent, playboyish young adult dressed in Western clothes in Tianjin in 1927, cigarette in his hand, and singing wistfully "Am I Blue?" while leaning on a piano in a Western hotel dining room
  • the scene of secondary consort Wen Hsiu's demands for a divorce: "I want a divorce" - passively accepted
Singing: "Am I Blue?"
Wen Hsiu: "I want a divorce"
  • later, his escape in the mid-1930s to Manchukuo as a puppet ruler where his opium-addicted wife Wan Jung had an affair with leather-clad, depraved, cross-dressing, and decadent lesbian Japanese spy Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han); to soothe her, Eastern Jewel massaged Wan Jung's leg and then nibbled on her toes and smiled: "Now we're engaged"; eventually, Eastern Jewel was driven to suicide when the Japanese surrendered, and Wan Jung was placed in an asylum
Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han) -
Sucking Toes of Opium-Addicted Wan Jung
  • the ten years of Pu Yi's imprisonment as # 981 in Foo Shoe - a Russian prison/re-education camp (where he couldn't even tie his own shoes) - but where he majestically scribbled his name on the ground - and the scene of his eventual release in 1959
  • the final flash-forwarded sequence of an older Pu Yi in 1967 (the year of his death) - as a simple Peking gardener and also as a tourist visiting the Forbidden City where he ascended the Dragon Throne once again and showed an amazed young boy, wearing a red tie signifying Communist Party ties with the Pioneer Movement, his hidden cricket box behind the throne - to prove that he was the Emperor of China (Son of Heaven, or "The Lord of Ten Thousand Years"); the young lad released the 60 year-old cricket (!) from the box, and it crawled onto his red tie
Hidden Cricket Box -
Cricket Crawling on Red Communist Tie
  • the final words of a tour guide in 1987, pointing out the golden Dragon Throne area to a group of tourists: ("This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony where the empress were crowned. The last Emperor to be crowned here was Aisian-Gioro Pu Yi. He was three years old. He died in 1967"), before the credits rolled over a freeze-frame of the throne area

Empress Dowager Cixi's Pronouncement

Toddler Child Emperor and Billowing Yellow Curtain

Pu Yi - "The Son of Heaven"

"The Emperor's Cricket"

Pu-Yi Breast-Fed by Ar Mo (Jade Go)

Final Stoic Goodbye of Tutor 'R.J.' Johnston (Peter O'Toole)

Arranged Marriage with Wan Jung (Joan Chen)

Marital Bed

Puppet Ruler


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