For a movie filmed in the 80s, this has amazing camera quality only seen in the late 90s, and the acting is spectacular.
You may, if you are a history buff, know the story of Pu-Yi, the last Emperor of China before the republic period. The movie follows Pu-Yi from the time when he is taken from his mother at age 3 and is basically imprisoned in the Forbidden City with no friends save the eunuchs who rule there. As soon as he is taken in the empress (Cu-Xi) dies, leaving the toddler as Emperor of China. He rules as a child for many years, until a revolution against corrupt officials replaces the empire with the republic, and later the republic with the current communist government. His story is told in the form of testimony when he is on trial for conspiring against the communist government. Details of his life are laid out for the judges to see, and flashbacks relay the entire story.
I don’t know if you think little kids are adorable, but they are. Py-Yi ruled in the Forbidden City alone with his eunuchs until he was 8, when his mother and brother come to live with him. Shortly after Pu-Yi learns that he is no longer Emperor of China, he was overthrown when he was 4 and never told (the government allowed him to live in the Forbidden City as a kind of figurehead).
Not many history books talk about the infant emperor. The change in government in China may have never reached his ears if not for his brother (the first child he ever meets). Everyone seemed to have been content with leaving him be, but with the news that he is not emperor anymore comes new dreams for him. A western tutor is brought in from England to teach the boy and he becomes obsessed with western ideas and technology (particularly the bicycle).
This whole storyline is very “Forest Gump” style, except Pu-Yi is not mentally handicapped.
I watched this film first in my AP World History class, and we got a lot of the back story from our instructor before watching. The Last Emperor was the first movie ever filmed in the Forbidden City, which is pretty awesome. Minor sets cluster the background, and most of it was filmed in China, which is really cool.