Synopsis by Clarke Fountain
The mainland Chinese government was less than perfectly amused by Bernardo Bertolucci's award-winning movie The Last Emperor, and this film constitutes a sort of cinematic rebuttal. In the Bertolucci film, the last holder of the Manchu throne, Pu Yi, was shown as very much a victim of circumstance, and if he was cruel at times, this was directly attributable to his upbringing. Likewise, he was shown to have been politically naive to an incredible degree. In the Chinese rebuttal, Pu Yi and many of his cohorts are shown as being extremely greedy and exploitative, willing to sell out their country and countrymen for any advantage. Those who weren't greedy were so blinded by tradition that they believed their Emperor could do no wrong. Further, Pu Yi is shown as being deliberately and knowingly cruel over a long period not just to his wife, who went insane, but to his concubines as well. While this movie (possibly quite correctly) throws doubt on the Manchu nobleman's having any reasonable claim to pity (much less having any legitimate claim to the rulership of China), it is far less gripping than the vastly more cinematic tragedy by Bertolucci.