For the late director Bernardo Bertolucci the massive Oscar winning success of The Last Emperor in 1987 gave his career a much needed boost as his last hit had been 1972’s controversial Last Tango in Paris and since then many of his films had flopped despite critical acclaim for several of them. His last epic film had been another historical drama 1900 way back in 1976 that had starred Robert de Niro but The Last Emperor would take the epic film to an even more epic level. The Last Emperor would be the true story of Puyi China’s well…last emperor.

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The film was one of two projects that Bertolucci, the other being Man’s Fate another true story about failed Chinese insurrection and both were taken to China’s government for consideration of filming authority being granted. It’s seems unusual now with China’s current borderline dictatorship that this was even considered by the filmmakers but the by mid-1980’s China had partly opened up to the West in terms of attracting this kind of project and the first ne to have done so was Tai Pan with its story of the early years of Hong Kong under British rule. It bombed worse than Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour and China rejected Bertolucci’s Man’s Fate preferring The Last Emperor as it was focused far more on a successful story than the failed one seen in Man’s Fate. It didn’t harm either than Bertolucci was a paid up member of his countries own Communist party either. The Chinese authorities were extraordinarily and perhaps almost unbelievably co-operative even allowing the crew to film in the Forbidden City, a stunning architecturally beautiful place where significant scenes in the film would be shot.

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With a script written by Mark Peploe, Bertolucci’s brother in law, the scale of the film would be immense, the biggest of the director’s career involving over 10,000 extras with costume workshops in several major cities around the world. Added to this was producer Jeremy Thomas having to raise the entire budget of $25m himself for what was essentially an independent production. Starring in the film would be John Lone and Joan Chen (who had also starred in Tai Pan) and with support from Peter O ‘Toole as an English consort to the emperor in a role that Bertolucci had earmarked for Sean Connery until he turned it down.

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Bertolucci turned in a visually stunning film with brilliant use of colour, location and spectacle in an engaging story and quickly became an obvious Oscar contender being nominated in nine categories and unusually going on to win all of them including Best Film and Best Director though interestingly there were no acting nominations with the rest being for screenplay, cinematography, art direction, costume, sound, editing and score.

Revisiting the film 35 years later is a reminder of how remarkable an achievement it is in what would be the pinnacle of Bertolucci’s career despite attempts to follow the success of the film with similarly grand spectacle led films that included The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha that starred Keanu Reeves no less! The spectacle was on a scale with the best of David Lean’s films and this limited Edition UHD and blu-ray is brilliantly transferred capturing the stunning cinematography.

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This is a two disc edition with the original theatrical cut running at 163 minutes and a longer cut running at a massive 219 minutes. Unusually its actually the shorter version which is the director’s intended cut with the longer version being one that was going to be a four part TV version (something that was similarly done with the first two Godfather films) but plays just as well here though does not improve on the original theatrical release. First released in a pre-directors commentary era and Bertolucci having passed away in 2018  it’s a shame that there’s nothing along that lines here but there’s plenty for both Bertolucci fans as well as those new to the film.


  • New 4K restoration of the original theatrical version
    • Original and extended versions of the film presented in their original aspect ratio of 2.39:1
    • Original uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio, plus 5.1 audio option for theatrical version
    • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
    • Eight double-sided postcard sized lobby card reproduction artcards
    • Fold-out double-sided poster featuring two artwork options
    • Illustrated collectors book featuring new writing by film critics Kat Ellinger and Philip Kemp, plus select archival material


  • 4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-rayTM presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
    • Original uncompressed stereo 2.0 and 5.1 audio options
    • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
    • First to Last: The Road to the Forbidden City, a new visual essay by film critic David Cairns exploring Bernardo Bertolucci’s career prior to The Last Emperor
    • Open the Door, a new visual essay by film critics David Cairns & Fiona Watson in which they follow Bertolucci into the Forbidden City to explore in-depth The Last Emperor and the truth on which it is based
    • Archive interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci
    • Archive interview with star John Lone
    • Archive interview with star Joan Chen
    • Postcard from China, video footage shot by Bernardo Bertolucci while location scouting in China
    • Theatrical trailer
    • Image gallery


  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
    • Original uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio
    • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

The Open the Door documentary is very good giving an insight into the story behind the production despite David Cairns voiceover delivery being a bit dry it is highly informative.

Here’s The Last Emperor trailer……

The Last Emperor is released on limited edition UHD & Blu-ray on 13th February 2023


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