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The Naked Emperor
Sep 01, 2007 12:46 PM 3398 Views
(Updated Sep 01, 2007 02:29 PM)





If you have heard of the story of the Emperor with new clothes, two tailors fool him with invisible clothes and make him naked. Everyone in the King’s Court go about saying, ” Look at the king’s cloths, how beautiful they are. However the naked truth remains.

The Last Emperor of China, Henry Pu Yi of Qing dynasty lived like this Naked Emperor in forbidden City only to destine as a Gardener in the Botanical Gardens of Peking (Beijing) in 1960 to learn to man himself in a life, which stands out to be the most intriguing in the History of 20th Century China, which is full of unfolding political paradoxes, that  starts with the Coronation of Pu Yi as an Emperor meant to only live like one, moving on to the formation of People’s republic of China in 1949, the massacre under Deng Xiaoping  at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and ends with the rapid transformation of China towards economic and political reforms.

Bernardo Bertolucci takes us into a journey of visual spectacle of the resplendent Forbidden City with thousands of Eunuchs dressed in high pitch colour , the tumultuous red of China, the poignant to dilapidated face of Pu Yi’s Empress and the icy Mountains of Manchuria in one massive epic sliced into 160 minutes correlating with China’s transition to Communism from Feudalism. In doing so, he leaves us by not seeing Pu Yi empathetically and rather in a learning curve as to what he was not as an Emperor. Such naked truths can be examined with a character development which delves in similar lines to our Naked Emperor. It starts with the larger than the little wardrobe the Little Pu Yi wears at the age of 7 and ends with his inability to urinate in the box or button his shirt as an adult. An Emperor who thought he was and Emperor of Heaven for 10000 years giving orders to the Courtesans was in stark reality a total emptiness as a Human. The delusions of Pu Yi are in plenty and Bertolucci takes him for a bicycle ride to the doors of Forbidden City just to realize that he was living the life of a royal prisoner in his own Country.

The shallowness of Pu Yi’s life is juxtaposed into his past and his present as much as the scores of side cast and the overwhelming backdrop that is sheer beauty to watch in contrast. Bertolucci in fact magnifies the shallowness by giving depth to the surrounding and making him hapless. Some of the scenes take us by the magnitude while some leave us dry and sullen. When Pu Yi is asked to write his own story again and again, the blank pages conveys the remorse of emptiness.

Reginold Johnston , a Scottish academic is appointed as Pu Yi’s tutor .Bertolucci chooses the tall and lanky Peter O Toole who epitomizes the west-east interaction and the cross cultural manifestation of Pu Yi with desires to go to Cambridge, but ultimately getting married to the Empress and Concubine. Expelled from the Forbidden City, he dreams of ruling his native Manchurian land only to be controlled by the Japanese as Puppet ruler.

The Mao revolution in China transcends his capture in Soviet Union (not depicted in the movie) and ends in his education from Emperor turned Puppet, into a new face of republic of China, the face that simply refuses to accept the destiny. Fitting finale to this are the last two scenes, one where the Youth dance in mass to the music of the Red Guard marking the end of Feudalism when Pu Yi shows his remorse and the other where Bertolucci takes pains to make Pu Yi visit his throne at The Forbidden City to reveal Cricket which was his secret possession (and amazingly after so many years) .The Forbidden City was no more a Forbidden City.

Mark Peploe has written script that borders around Pu Yi’s delusions while Bertolucci’s towards ambivalence of Pu Yi’s life in the enormity of the Forbidden City heaped with Chinese History. Bertolucci’s obsession to the splendour of Forbidden City with its mystical eunichism makes it little more voyeuristic and stupefying. The Japanese spy who makes the Empress Opium addict labours to please. Joan Chen gives a remarkable performance as the Empress turned drug addict while the Hongkong based John Lone exemplifies the naked Emperor.

The best of honours inevitably goes to the technical team with breathtaking photography by Vittorio Storario, thanks to the Chinese Government to allow shoot in original locales. Music by Ryuichi Sakamato and crew is enchanting.

The disappointing aspect is the drag in the movie in the abridged version (207 minutes) merely trying to nurse the Little Pu Yi’s desires and delusions. Nevertheless it is worth watching what with 9 Oscars and the story heaped into the History of tumultuous China.

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