8:00 PM, Saturday April 29
Premiere: Introduced by Linda Jaivin and Jing Han

2:55PM, Tuesday May 02

Randwick Ritz

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Country: China, France, United Kingdom, Italy
Year: 1987
Runtime: 163 minutes
Rating: M
Language: English


"The visual magnificence of Bertolucci's film is so great that he has removed the project almost beyond criticism." – Hilary Mantel

Thirty-five years ago, this film swept up nine Academy Awards – every category in which it was eligible. It has aged majestically, and cinema today is no more lavish; its imagery no more ravishing; nor its historical scope more compelling. It’s the astonishing story of Pu Yi, the boy made Emperor of China at barely three years of age; a virtual prisoner in the Forbidden City until adulthood; then exiled in Tientsin and Manchuria before a decade in a Maoist “re-education camp”; and finally, a gardener in Beijing’s Botanical Gardens. The great Bernardo Bertolucci is assisted by his ‘holy trinity’ – cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and costume designer James Acheson, with a soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne and Cong Su. Cinema Reborn is proud to present the premiere Australian screening of the new 4K restoration of The Last Emperor on the big screen at The Ritz.

A masterpiece…a fully shaped historical epic that allows us to understand the complex character of Pu Yi.” — Oliver Stone

If you like to exit your movies feeling as though you’ve really seen the best in quality production, see this one.” — Rob Lowing, Sun-Herald

From the vintage cars, the palaces and actual footage of an ever-changing China, The Last Emperor is a visual masterpiece.” — Liverpool Echo

The 8pm screening on Saturday 29 April will be introduced by Linda Jaivin and Professor Jing Han. Linda Jaivin is the author of twelve books including The Shortest History of China, essayist, translator and cultural commentator. Professor Jing Han is the Director of Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University and former Head of SBS Subtitling.

Watch the 1988 Oscars for the Best Picture and Best Director Awards to The Last Emperor and Bernardo Bertolucci here.

By Rod Bishop

Bernardo Bertolucci
Poet, cineaste and member of the Italian Communist Party, Bernardo Bertolucci graduated from the 16mm shorts of his teenage years to become Pier Paolo Pasolini’s assistant on Accattone (1961). He has likened the experience to being present at “the birth of cinema”.

Bertolucci then turned a Pasolini story into his first feature La Commare Secca (1962), a police investigation into the murder of a prostitute that many have compared with Rashomon.

His critical break-through, however, came with his second feature Before The Revolution (1964), a psychological study of a young Palma radical torn between political action and his bourgeois upbringing.

Partner (1968), based on The Double by Dostoevsky also looked into the conflicts between radical politics and conformism and The Spider’s Stratagem (1969), from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, followed a son’s return to his father’s village to learn the truth about the death of his father at the hands of fascists.

The Conformist (1970), from a novel by Alberto Moravia, brought Bertolucci international acclaim and his vibrant, flamboyant directorial style created a riveting account of a man espousing fascist ideology as he tries to be ‘normal’ and hide doubts about his homosexuality.

The transgressive sexuality of Last Tango in Paris (1972) was regarded by some as scandalous, but the film cemented Bertolucci’s reputation as a brilliant director who could take art-film content and turn it into box office success.

In 1976, he embarked on the five-and-a-half hour 1900, a mammoth undertaking attempting to portray the political history of Italy during the first half of the 20th Century. In Luna (1979), he returned to transgressive sexual relationships, this time between an opera singer and her teenage son. The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man in 1982 followed a dairy farmer’s search for his son and ransom demands from terrorists.

Five years later, the director returned with his greatest triumph, The Last Emperor (1987). Allowed access to Beijing’s Forbidden City, Bertolucci delivered a sprawling account of the life of Pu Yi, a child made Emperor of China shortly before his third birthday and who ended his days as a municipal gardener during the Cultural Revolution. It won nine Academy Awards - every category in which it was nominated.

Two further ‘epics’ followed, The Sheltering Sky(1990) and Little Buddha (1993). As he moved into the latter part of his career, Richard Roud noted the absence of his previous “elaborate camera movements”, and suggested Bertolucci “achieved that classical simplicity of mise en scene that is, if not invisible, then translucent”.

Bertolucci lived in the gap between the art-house and the commercial cinema and he stayed there through his final films Stealing Beauty (1996), Besieged (1998), The Dreamers (2003) and Me and You (2012).

Martin Scorsese: “When I think of Bertolucci – the man, the artist – the word that comes to mind is refinement. Yes, he was flamboyant and provocative, but it was the mellifluousness and the grace with which he expressed himself, and his deep understanding of his own history and culture, that made his filmmaking and his presence so special, so magical”.

The Film
The scope of David Lean…enriched by the vision of Ozu.” - David Thomson

Thirty-five years ago, this film swept up nine Academy Awards. It has aged majestically, and cinema today is no more lavish; its imagery no more ravishing; nor its historical scope more compelling than The Last Emperor.

Yet within this sumptuous production lies a delicate, domestic tale of a boy who two months before his third birthday, became China’s last emperor. Four years later, in 1912 when China became a republic, Pu Yi was forced to spend the remainder of his childhood and adolescence imprisoned in the Forbidden City.

In 1924, he was expelled from the City and languished as a playboy in exile in Tientsin. Ten years later, the Japanese made him the puppet ruler of Manchuria, and at the end of WWII, he was eventually captured by the Red Army and imprisoned in a re-education camp for a further ten years. Released, Pu Yi ended his days as an ordinary Chinese citizen, gardening in Beijing’s Botanical Gardens.

Monarchies often make for engrossing stories, but seldom do they come as poignant as a toddler scampering through gigantic billowing curtains into vast Forbidden City courtyards, where thousands await his coronation. Or then imprisoned in ancient rooms, tended by obsequious servants and simpering eunuchs whom he treats like children’s toys.

Shooting the entire film within the People’s Republic of China and on sound stages in Italy, Bertolucci was the first foreign filmmaker granted permission to film in the Forbidden City, and he revels in the opportunity, setting nearly half the film in this fairy-tale location spread over 250 acres, crammed with opulent buildings and boasting 9,999 rooms.

The Chinese government provided Bertolucci with 19,000 extras including 2,000 soldiers - who shaved their heads - and 1,100 film students.

Producer Jeremy Thomas and Bertolucci first approached the Chinese government with two potential projects – an adaptation of Andrei Malraux’s Shanghai-based novel Man’s Fate (aka The Human Condition) or, alternatively, an adaptation of From Emperor to Citizen, the autobiography by China’s last emperor Pu Yi.

The government favoured the emperor’s story, offering studio facilities and an unlimited supply of extras in return for Chinese distribution and the right to approve the script.

Bertolucci has said the only changes requested were the correction of historical inaccuracies and the deletion of one scene considered too demeaning of the emperor.

Interviewed by Sandy Lieberson at the 2006 Berlinale Talent Campus, Jeremy Thomas said:

It was less difficult than working with the [Hollywood] studio system. They made script notes, and made references to change some of the names, then the stamp went on and the door opened and we came.

And in The Los Angeles Times:

We had a two-page contract which opens with the statement, in the spirit of friendship and collaboration. It’s rather like the Preamble [to the Constitution]. There’s no first-party-this and second-party-that stuff.

Despite the Chinese Government’s apparent acquiescence to the historical events in the script, Stefano Baschiero cites a number of Chinese authors who, nevertheless took issue. The appearance in 1988 - one year after The Last Emperor - of the 28-episode Chinese series Modai Huangdi, based on Pu Yi’s autobiography, made East-West comparisons possible, particularly as the domestic television series reportedly paid much stricter attention to the accuracy of Pu Yi’s writing.

Baschiero reports the Chinese writers saw the biggest divergence between the two versions of Pu Yi’s life as concerned with the “realist materialism” of the Chinese series compared with the “emotional approach” of Bertolucci’s work.

There were also pointed references to the Orientalism in Bertolucci’s film and his version of Chinese history made for Western eyes. Ding Ling (1988) stresses “how the Chinese value an historical film according to its faithfulness to the facts, demanding a high level of accuracy”.

Haibo Lu (1988) suggests the scene where the emperor sleeps with two women would never have happened in the imperial palace.

Baschiero also states:

It is interesting to note that an authorial approach emerges in these early Chinese criticisms, mostly in the attributions of the historical imprecisions to Bertulucci’s artistic goals, while there is no mention of the involvement of the Chinese government in the approval of the script. On the contrary, this feature was constantly underlined by the Western press, both to stress the idea of collaboration and the agreement with the facts portrayed.”

For his part, in 1998, Bertolucci was quite unapologetic about where his film came from:

I think it is a very Italian movie, The Last Emperor. It is very operatic, like Italian opera, and I think it one of my more Italian movies. The other reason is that I was and I am a bit fed up with reality in my country – even here, everywhere in the West, and so I go looking for a cultural atmosphere which has not been completely invaded and polluted and suffocated and killed by consumerism monoculture. And that’s why China is okay. And North Africa, Africa is okay”.

There’s no denying the strength of the Italian creative input. Bertolucci is joined by those Oliver Stone calls the Italian director’s “holy trinity of creative genius - cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and costume designer James Acheson.” Along with co-writer Mark Peploe, musicians Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also acts in the film), David Byrne, Cong Su and the editor Gabrielli Cristiani: it’s a formidable team.

There’s also no denying that Bertolucci’s preoccupations with Marxism, Communism, Freud, eroticism and sexuality from his previous films surface once again in The Last Emperor. Bertolucci even includes Pu Yi’s exotic cousin Yoshiko Kawashima (Eastern Jewel) as part of his imperial family in Tientsin and Manchuria. Once a princess, Kawashima announced her gender fluidity at the age of 18 in 1925. Here, she appears as an opium-smoking, cross-dressing, bi-sexual, Japanese spy who likes a little foot fetish.

Bertolucci has described film editing as “…going into an underground mine where you find incredible precious metals you didn’t know were there while shooting. You see things for the first time. It is magic”.

Oliver Stone agrees:

Film is endlessly supple; it can be cut dozens of different ways to reveal. Like music or painting, film is ultimately outside left-brain logic, closer to Eisenstein’s hyperwarp of the senses, long ago described by the Hindus as a dreamscape.”

A great admirer of The Last Emperor, Stone calls it:

“…a masterpiece – a fully shaped historical epic that allows us to understand the complex character of Pu Yi…it is a true epic expressing the fate of the collective – in this case, the Chinese empire intertwined with the destiny of one Mr Bertolucci describes it ‘The Dragon becomes a man.’”

The visual magnificence of Bertolucci’s film is so great that he has removed the project almost beyond criticism.” - Hilary Mantel, The Spectator

In many ways, he has created what many thought impossible – an intimate epic.” -  Michael Blowen, Boston Globe

When this film really sings, it’s as if Bertolucci had tapped the well-spring of cinema and, ecstatic, discovered the eroticism at its essence.” - Peter Rainer

Everything involving the life of Pu Yi was a waste. Everything except one thing: the notion that a single human life could have infinite value.” - Roger Ebert

Academy Awards:

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound.

Golden Globes

Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score.


Best Film, Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up.

The Restoration
A 4K scan of the original anamorphic 35mm negative and supervised by Turbine Medien, Munster, Germany.

L'ultimo imperatore | Director: Bernardo BERTOLUCCI | Italy, UK, USA | 1987 | 163 mins. | 4K Scope DCP (orig. 35mm, 70mm, 2.39:2) | Colour | Dolby Stereo Sd. | Mandarin, Manchu, Japanese, English, with English subtitles | (M)

Production Companies: Yanco Films Limited, TAO Films, Recorded Pictures, Screenframe, AAA Soprofilms, Hanway Films, Hemdale Film Corporation | Producer: Jeremy THOMAS | Script: Mark PEPLOE & Bernardo BERTOLUCCI, Enzo UNGARI, based on Puyi’s autobiography | Photography: Vittorio STORARO | Editor: Gabriella CRISTANI | Production Design: Ferdinando SCARFIOTTI | Art Direction: Maria Teresa BARBASSO, Gianni GIOVAGNONI, Gianni SILVESTRI | Sound: Mike HOPKINS, David MOTTA, Bill ROWE, Ivan SHARROCK, Les WIGGINS | Music: David BYRNE, SAKAMOTO Ryūichi, SŪ Cōng | Costumes: James ACHERSON.

Cast: John LONE (Pu Yi as an Adult), Richard VUU (Pi Yi as Child), Tsou TIJGER (Pi Yu 8 years) // Tao WU (Pi Yu 15 years) Joan CHEN (‘Wan Rong’), Maggie HAN (‘Eastern Jewel’), Peter O’TOOLE (Reginald Johnston), Jade GO (‘Nursemaid’) Cary-Hiroyuki TAGAWA (‘Chang’), SAKAMOTO Ryūichi (Amakasu Masahiko), CHEN Kaige (‘Captain of Imperial Guard’), Vivian WU Jun Mei (Wen Xiu), YING Ruocheng (‘Camp Governor’), Victor WONG (Chen Paochen), Dennis DUN (‘Big Li’).

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.