The Last Emperor

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Last Emperor Movie Poster Image
Beautiful Chinese biography is too long, mature for tweens.
  • PG-13
  • 1987
  • 218 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Pampering and overindulgence can create selfishness and an unrealistic self-image, and can lead to great mistakes. Making decisions should be based on thoughtful analysis, not on emotional whims.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The last emperor learns important lessons, though too late to change the course of his life.  His wife, the empress, starts out with honest and decent aspirations, but ultimately succumbs to the excesses and tyranny of the emperor's lifestyle.


An unsuccessful suicide attempt: wrists slashed, blood gushes into water-filled sink.  A man is victim of flogging. The young emperor kills his pet mouse by throwing it against a wall. A household servant accused of betrayal is killed by a direct shot to the head. There's an angry confrontation between students and an armed military unit. Political prisoners are treated harshly and forced to confess by ruthless guards. Additionally, there are multiple newsreel scenes of a violent war and its aftermath, including shootings, piles of bodies, graphic shots of children wounded.


In a gentle wedding night scene, a bride and groom kiss and begin to caress and undress each other. A man and his wife and his female "consort" engage in sexual activity in bed under a satin cover. A suggestion of lesbianism culminates with two women mutually aroused by "toe-sucking" while smoking opium. The emperor's staff is primarily made up of eunuchs, who upon occasion are seen carrying their testicles in jars. Several shots of a wet nurse breast-feeding a baby. A small boy is shown naked.


One use of the "f" word near the end of the film.


Mention of Bayer aspirin and Wrigley gum.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There are a number of images of opium dens. Two women smoke opium while sexually stimulating each other. The empress appears to be under the influence of opium in multiple sequences.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bysandra d. May 28, 2016

a beautiful portrait of old China, its fall, and the rise of its modern Communist state- watch it WITH your younger child

This is a film to watch WITH YOUR CHILD, so you can discuss interesting or intense issues as you go. It is a beautiful film which captures the dramatic changes... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byBestPicture1996 October 13, 2013

Beautifully filmed but nearly an endurance test

There are two people who will see this movie: those who are genuinely interested in circa World War II China history, and those who want to see what made this m... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byMissE1000 May 19, 2011

Should be rated R

I honestly think this should be rated R. There is a brief shot of a kid naked, front side. There is also a shot of a wet-nurse, and she isn't exactly cov... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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