Movies

B+

The Last Emperor

Genre: Drama, Historical; Starring: Joan Chen, John Lone, Peter O'Toole; Director: Bernardo Bertolucci; Author: Bernardo Bertolucci; Runtime (in minutes): 160; Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Is there a need to add nearly an hour to the already 160 minutes long The Last Emperor when Bernardo Bertolucci loaded up on Academy Awards a decade ago? No, there is not. Does this 219-minute director’s cut look so different, to a casual re-visitor, from the 1987 epic that made a star of John Lone, playing the title role? Not really. But neither is the film’s Zen-slow pace a burden. Rather, the expanse of time is saturated with an expanse of visual beauty that feels absolutely right for the story, that of a human caged bird who, tragically, loses all sense of direction once he’s kicked from his magnificently gilded cage. The relationship between the royal student and his Western tutor (Peter O’Toole, a vision of compassion and British rectitude) is given all the time required to catalog the mysteries of East-meets-West. And the added hour affords Bertolucci even more time to marvel, in his most voluptuous style, at every cloud, grasshopper, and broom-pushing peasant when not telling the astonishing story of Pu Yi, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, one-man symbol of the history of modern China. B+

Originally posted December 4 1998 — 12:00 AM EST

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