TV Cream

Films: L is for...

Last Emperor, The

At last! A palpable hit! This mammoth production is forever talked of in hushed tones, with awed mentions of cavalcades of extras, costumes, period detail, Forbidden City filming permissions and so on. So we feel a bit sheepish about judging it a big old overblown bore. But it is though, isn’t it? Billowing silks, serried ranks of bowing minions, swelling Sakamoto score, lovely old cars, boiler suits towards the end… yes, you carry on, Bernardo, we’ll just be over here by the Sid Field counter, thank you very much. Still, this musty old museum exhibit clocked up a sizeable profit on its $25 million budget (which at least is all up there on screen, eh, Ishtar?) and cleaned up on Oscar night. Small comfort for David Puttnam, who was by then out of Columbia Pictures after a fraught and, let’s be honest, rubbish tenure at the helm, watching the ceremony, in which none of the winners gave him even a mention, on a telly in a Toronto hotel room. A far cry from the Chariots bombast evening, eh, Dave?



  1. Matt Patton

    October 6, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Awful film, but at least Marlon Brando doesn’t bugger anyone . . .

  2. Richard Davies

    November 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    The music was co-written by David “Talking Heads” Byrne.

    Psudo “Doctor” Gillian McKeith might have watched this at one time, if you know what I mean!?

  3. Glenn Aylett

    August 26, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    One of those films you need plenty of time to watch and where you need a decent knowledge of Cbinese history from when the country became a republic to the Cultural Revolution. I actually felt sorry for the emperor, who is overthrown as a small boy, becomes a stooge for the Japanese, and ends up as prisoner of the communists. Also his poor wife becomes addicted to opium from a sinister bisexual woman who works for the Japanese. All in all, The Last Emperor is a great film if you understand China in the last century.

  4. Sidney Balmoral James

    August 27, 2022 at 10:02 pm

    Puttnam goofed with this one, in only buying the US rights – someone other than Columbia had the ‘rest of world’ rights and it didn’t make much in US. It’s a classic 80s epic, like Gandhi, The Mission, Passage to India etc., none of them very distinguished. This does however have a sequence when the emperor goes to bed with two women which is a brief attempt at genuine eroticism in 80s film without nudity / sleaze.

  5. Richardpd

    August 27, 2022 at 11:02 pm

    I remember my parents watching this on TV in the mid 1990s & my Dad had to explain a lot of the history to my Mum.

    Supposedly was eventually became Licence To Kill was originally intended to be set in China, but it was felt that The Last Emperor had made it hard for other films to do a Chinese set justice. Eventually Tomorrow Never Dies managed to be Chinese set.

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