The Last Movie in the Forbidden City


China“The Last Emperor” is an unprecedented work when it was filmed at the palace that placed the throne in the Forbidden City.

Follow Thepaper, The Last Emperor (The Great Emperor, 1987) is called “the last film in the Forbidden City” because after this work, no cinematographic production was recorded in the main palaces here. Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci (1941-2018) was the first and only person to have the privilege of filming at Thai Hoa Palace (or Kim Loan Palace) – the largest palace in the Forbidden City, symbolizing rights power of kings, where the Ming and Qing dynasties held the coronation ceremony and the great marriage ceremony.

The crew applied for permission before the Chinese Ministry of Culture issued a regulation banning filming in international architectural heritage sites. Since 1949, this is the first foreign film project to be supported by the Chinese government in its implementation.

Bernardo Bertolucci (right) and actor Ton Long while filming in the Forbidden City in 1987. Photo: Thepaper

Bernardo Bertolucci came up with the idea to make it The Last Emperor since the late 1970s. At that time, he established himself as a leading international director through works such as Last tango in Paris, 1900… Since 1984, the director wrote the script and did the pre-production. He calculated the film’s cost of about 25 million USD – a huge number at that time. To ensure the independent spirit of the work, the famous British producer – Jeremy Thomas – did not want to invite many studios to participate. He borrowed money from five banks in Europe, 5 million USD each, as funding.

Follow Mtime, many commentators at that time thought that spending money to make a movie about a space alien to Europeans and Americans was crazy. On August 16, 1986, Bernardo Bertolucci sent a “multinational army” to Beijing to film, and had to hire 30 interpreters. The crew consists of actors of Chinese origin, experts in lighting, music… Italian, American, British, Japanese and Chinese.

One of the most stunning scenes in the film, the strongest visual effect of the movie is the scene where Pu Yi took advantage of his childhood. In order to ensure that there are no problems while filming at Thai Hoa Palace, the crew is not allowed to place any machinery or props here, including equipment for mounting cameras, lighting, etc. The cinematographer only can record by hand-held camcorders, lights placed from outside electricity.

The Last Movie in the Forbidden City

Jing Puyi ascended the throne. Video: Columbia Pictures

The cost of the coronation scene was very large, the crew had to prepare six months in advance. Hairstylist Giancarlo di Leonardis used 997 tons of wigs to make braids for 2,000 extras. He spent 10 days instructing 50 Chinese employees to complete the hairdressing of 2,000 people in just a few hours.

Bernardo Bertolucci himself was tense when he first faced a large number of actors, he used to hide in a corner to drink whiskey, to reassure himself.

When filming the scene where Pho Nghi (played by Ton Long) was chased by Phung Ngoc Tuong from the Forbidden City, the crew needed a lot of vintage cars, but these cars are hard to find in China. The film crew transported 20 usable vintage cars from Italy, two car engineers came to support. These props often have problems, the crew uses ropes to tie them to the car, some employees pull them into motion. In addition to Beijing, the crew also filmed in Tianjin, Changchun and Italy.

The Last Movie in the Forbidden City

The scene where the king, queen and concubine were expelled from the Forbidden City. Video: Columbia Pictures

Follow Today LineThe Forbidden City Management Board closely monitors the work of the film crew. Once, the famous British actor Peter O’Toole forgot to bring his entry card and was blocked outside the gate. Visits and visits to the Forbidden City were also postponed to give priority to the film crew. Tran Chong, playing Queen Uyen Dung, said: “It was the first time and the last time that I walked in the Forbidden City without any tourists, hearing my shoes resound on the steps”.

In 1987, the film was released worldwide. The London premiere featured Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The princess used to panic when she saw Pu Yi commit suicide. Therefore, before the scene of bleeding that followed, Bernardo Bertolucci covered the princess’s eyes with his hand to avoid startling her.

Follow Thepaper, the Chinese release only cuts some sex scenes, other contents are reserved. The film was a huge hit, being nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1988 and winning all of them. Sakamoto Ryūichi, Japanese music master, is in charge of the soundtrack of The Last Emperor, once said when making the film: “Looking at the magnificent architecture, the palace and the red walls, I think the emperor is living here. I still remember the sound of the wind, feel the sadness and loneliness” .

Nghinh Xuan

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