A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this nearly four-hour film, covering six decades of Chinese history, contains some violent scenes, including a bloody attempted suicide, an execution-style murder with a direct gunshot to the head, and brutal newsreel footage from World War II. There are numerous scenes depicting opium use and its effects. Bare breasts are revealed as a baby and then a young child is nursed several times. Sexual activity includes a young couple kissing and exploring their clothed bodies on their wedding night; a carefully-shot sequence showing a married couple along with the couple's "second wife" engaging in foreplay beneath a satin coverlet; and an extended lesbian toe-sucking scene while the two women involved smoke opium. For older teens it offers a substantially accurate look at China during the last century, and accomplishes the rare feat of bringing history vibrantly to life.
a beautiful portrait of old China, its fall, and the rise of its modern Communist state- watch it WITH your younger child
What's the story?
From the age of three in 1908, when he is crowned Emperor of China, Pu Yi lives through the turbulent, vastly changing world of twentieth century China. During his early days he is worshipped, indulged as the child-leader of his people. Political events force him in his teen years to the Forbidden City where, as the exiled sovereign, he lives the same pampered life with no real power. Again political changes move him, this time to Manchuria, where he is a puppet of the Japanese as they prepare to launch what will be World War II. At the end of the war, a nearly broken man, he is captured and sent to a prison camp, held by the Chinese Communists as a war criminal. THE LAST EMPEROR follows Pu Yi, his supporters, his betrayers, his lovers, and his own growing conscience as his personal story reveals the story of China itself.
Is it any good?
The winner of nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Last Emperor is a stunning example of an historical movie of outstanding quality. Director Bernardo Bertolucci and his team have successfully managed to create an intensely personal movie, humanizing a culture with a thoughtful and provocative depiction of a man at its center. The sets and costumes are opulent and magnificent. There are countless beautifully-shot sequences. It's a big movie in every way: detailed and accurate, a vibrant spectacle that would probably cost too much to make in the 21st century. It's also a very long movie and might prove tedious to some viewers. However, it's time well spent as it unites the historical and the emotional as few other films have.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's style. How did the back-and-forth structure, from the prison camp to the past, help you understand what happened to Pu Yi?
What events were most significant in changing Pu Yi's view of the world?
This film is an example of moving-making that increases our knowledge and interest in history and other cultures. What other movies have you seen that have been able to do that? What resources are available to you if you want to learn more?
Why do you think the director and artists used the color red so extensively in the sets, costumes, and scenery? What feelings does it evoke?
For kids who love history
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.