The Last Emperor Movie Poster Image

The Last Emperor



Beautiful Chinese biography is too long, mature for tweens.
  • Review Date: November 30, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1987
  • Running Time: 218 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:November 20, 1987
DVD release date:February 23, 1999
Cast:Joan Chen, John Lone, Peter O'Toole
Director:Bernardo Bertolucci
Studio:Artisan Entertainment
Run time:218 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:for nudity and language

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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 covered, Historically, it's a good movie, though.
What other families should know
Too much sex
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 movie so good it won 9 Oscars. I fall very much into the latter category, and I pity CSM because they apparently watched a four hour version. I got the nearly three hour version, and was struggling against sleep. Its overlong and tedious portrayals of the Chinese culture were informative but unnecessary to the plot, and Bertolucci could have trimmed a lot of fat off this one.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Adult Written bysandra duca 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 of ancient, imperial China, through its brief turn-of-Century Republic days, into mid-Century Communist life. I chose it to make history more real to my 13 year old, so she could see & feel the opulence (rooms decorated ceiling to floor with gold and red, ladies similarly adorned), grandeur, and incredible slavish obedience to one person who is God-on-Earth solely for luck of birth. It is chock-full of teaching moments! Yes, a young child breast-feeds his wet-nurse, but the world-wide average wage of weaning is 4 years old, so TALK ABOUT IT with your child (cultural norms, why was he attached to her as mother, why was his real mother stolen from him??). Some issues were too violent for my family, but I simply did not bring it up (like the fact of 100's of eunichs- I did not point it out as i did not wish to expose my daughter to the horror of how these boys were mutilated). Much of the politics will go over your child's head, so I recommend you review your study of the politics and cultural issues of the time yourself: British cultural & political invasion to China, intentional addiction of the Chinese to opium, the deep reverence boys & men held for their ponytails & why it's so dramatic that Yi Pu cut off his; the lack of any choice in the face of obedience to custom, the role of (and options available to) women & girls (wife, slave, servant, courtesan). There are so many RICH TEACHING MOMENTS in this film. HOWEVER, STRONG VIOLENCE is present in the scene where a gun is placed to the temple of the male prisoner (blood & gore gushing from his head). I did NOT let my child view that scene. The lesbian sex scene involves opium and toe-sucking: for my family, it's a teaching moment about the seductiveness of drugs, need to be wary of other's motives, and how easy it is to ruin one's life by using (see the end of First Wife's story). You might choose to skip that scene. All in all, a beautiful film and, in my opinion, great for older tweens (12ish) and up, IF you watch with them (and skip over any scenes that don't work for your family). Older teens should be fine- you know your child best!


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