1987 brought us two visually compelling films with two iconic lead characters. One film is about one of the most powerful men in the world and his fall from grace. The other film is about the last emperor of China. There is a director’s cut of The Last Emperor that runs nearly four hours long, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get a hold of the four hour director’s cut of Leonard Part 6, so I figured I should write about the theatrical release of both films.
LEONARD PART 6 and THE LAST EMPEROR
Leonard Part 6 – “I actually saw this movie in the theater as a child and even at the tender age of 6 asked my Mom if we could leave and began crying when we didn’t.” – ecwmadman316, IMDb.com
The Last Emperor – “If you want a staggering and certainly singular movie experience, “The Last Emperor” will do very nicely.” – Sheila Benson, L.A. Times
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor tells the true story of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China during the early twentieth century. It focuses on his youthful reign in the Forbidden City followed by his short reign in Manchukuo with the Japanese support until his eventual arrest and release into civilian life. Told in flashback form, the film begins with Pu Yi, grown up and held as a political prisoner by the Republic of China because of his accusation of treason. Pu Yi tells his story of his rule, flashing back to the beginning when he was three years old and was crowned the new emperor immediately after the elder Empress dies.
Leonard Part 6 opens with classical British actor Tom Courtenay introducing the film, almost like a member of the chorus in a Shakespeare play. Right away we know we’re in for a real treat when the knighted, Oscar-nominated actor from films like The Dresser and Billy Liar is able to return to his theatrical roots and give us a rousing intro. The villainess Medusa, played by the Oracle from The Matrix and Diana Ross stunt double Gloria Foster, has found a formula that can turn all the animals on the planet into killing machines. This formula is concocted inside a large black sphere, which is most likely the same black sphere that was put in the recently deceased Empress’s mouth at the start of The Last Emperor. Pu Yi better be careful, his pet cricket or pet mouse may be up to no good. After several secret agents have been killed off by rainbow trout, gophers, and frogs, the government has decided to find retired agent Leonard Parker and ask him for help.
Playing the part of Leonard’s butler Frayn, British Tom Courtenay is the only white actor in an otherwise all African-American cast. Meanwhile, playing the part of Mr. Johnston, the Emperor’s tutor, Irishman Peter O’Toole is the only white actor in an otherwise all Asian cast. During one of his lessons with Mr. Johnston, the Emperor tries to get to know his tutor. The topic of being a gentleman was brought up and the Emperor says that he’s not a gentleman. “I’m not allowed to say what I mean, I’m always being told what to say.” It’s probably for the best anyway because kids say the darndest things.
The Emperor goes to Mr. Johnston for knowledge and advice while Leonard, apart from Jane Fonda in a workout video during a five minute montage, has a fortune teller who helps him out. After an unfortunate reconciliation with his ex-wife which resulted in much food to the face, Leonard decides to go to his fortune teller to ask for help. Speaking in a foreign tongue, the fortune teller embraces Leonard and gives him several random items such as slabs of meat, ballet slippers, and butter. With neither person understanding the other, the two part ways and Leonard begins his mission to stop Medusa.
Pu Yi is given everything he wants, as long as it’s within the Forbidden City. This ends up being both a blessing and a curse. Mr. Johnston notes that the Emperor is the loneliest boy in the world (maybe he and Pia Zadora could hook up), he’s never able to leave the palace, even to see his mother after she dies. After her death, in a fit of rage he rushes to the entrance of the gates and demands that the guards open the door, to which they do not budge. Perhaps if he used a tank like Leonard did to break into Medusa’s warehouse, he’d have had better luck. Trapped inside, he takes out his pet mouse and hurls it at the gate, killing it. At least that’s one less killer mouse to deal with.
Medusa’s henchmen are muscular male vegetarians who dress as birds and flap their fake wings around. They’re quite menacing and acrobatic creatures. After all, we know how much of an impact life size birds can have on people. Leonard better hope these birds don’t want to make out with him or try to start a record deal. Perhaps the big birds didn’t pass the auditions to be the Emperor’s eunuchs so they traveled to San Francisco to be Medusa’s shirtless tough guys. One of the items the fortune teller gave Leonard was raw hamburger meat and sausage links. Of course, as he’s being attacked by the giant birds, he rubs the meat on their bare skin, destroying them and exploding their heads. I think it’s obvious why Leonard’s nemeses are vegetarians, because after all, everyone knows if you don’t eat your meat you can’t have your Jell-O pudding. How can you have your Jell-O pudding if you don’t eat your meat?
As a young teen, the Emperor is forced to choose a bride among a line of young princesses. Though forced to marry one woman, he also chooses another to be his mistress, but overall he finds the whole process insulting, especially because the chosen empress was too old for him, she’s sixteen while he is still only twelve. Pu Yi, you really don’t know much about love, do you? Perhaps that’s why Mr. Johnston was there, to tutor him about relationships. Jerilee Randall hooked up with someone 30 years older than her in The Lonely Lady. Bo Derek married her director who was 30 years older than her. And Leonard’s daughter has fallen in love with her theater director who is 30 years older than her. Emperor, it’s not that she’s too old for you, she’s not old enough.
After years of wanting to flee the palace, the Japanese invaded the Forbidden City and the emperor was exiled. He went to the Japanese embassy and became a playboy. There is a scene where the Emperor is in tuxedo singing “Am I Blue?”, he obviously took tips from Prince in Under the Cherry Moon. The Emperor’s voice was quite good actually, he totally could have sung the theme song to The Lonely Lady. Unfortunately, though Pu Yi is adjusting pretty well to the outside world, his wife isn’t doing too great. She has become addicted to opium, eating flower petals all the time. Perhaps she shouldn’t have listened to Bo Derek who claimed opium was a love potion in order to help lose one’s virginity. Besides, the empress already has experience “making the rain and the wind”, she doesn’t need opium to improve her skills. Maybe Leonard could have used some of that love potion himself, then maybe his estranged wife wouldn’t have spilled a bowl of soup onto his head.
Though he managed to defeat the birdmen, Medusa had captured Leonard’s wife, so he gave himself up. At Medusa’s secret lair, The International Tuna factory, Leonard and his wife are tied up and being attacked by lobsters. Luckily another one of the fortune teller’s items comes in handy. Right before the lobsters reach them with their claws, Leonard pulls out a stick of butter and threatens them with it. The lobsters clip the ropes then scatter away in fear. Maria Schneider probably wished the butter had similar effects on Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris.
Along with being a playboy, the former Emperor of China became the new “puppet emperor” of Manchukuo, a region under Japanese control. Just like his rule as a child, he’s basically surrendered to this lifestyle where he’s made to think he is in control while the twentieth century comes crashing in on him. And, just like Rambo: First Blood Part II, this movie was released in the 80s, so we’ve gotta have the Russians as the enemies. The Soviets soon invade and the Puppet Emperor is once again forced to flee back to China via airplane, which leads up to the eventual arrest and present interrogation at the communist Republic.
While all this big trouble in Red China is taking place, the big trouble in San Francisco is soon coming to an end. Having destroyed the formula, releasing the cured animals, and taking down Medusa, Leonard is stuck on the roof of the burning down factory. With quick thinking, the cunning agent jumps on an ostrich and flies it off the roof. Why didn’t the Emperor think of that when he was wandering on the roof of the palace crying about wanting to go home? Airplanes in The Last Emperor and ostriches in Leonard Part 6, once again, the theme of flying in the recent winning films of the 80s continues.
Both films end with everything working out for the best for the heroes. After spending ten years as a political prisoner, Pu Yi is eventually released back into society and he spends the remainder of his life as a simple gardener. Though he is no longer the ruler of China, he can finally think for himself, go where he wants, and say what he means. Meanwhile, after stopping Medusa and saving the animals, Leonard is reunited with his wife and they make up. Having a romantic dinner together, the wife once again pours food on Leonard, but this time because he asked her to.
The Last Emperor is a visually stunning work, the first film allowed to shoot inside the actual Forbidden City, so of course the sets are amazing. The costumes are also extremely impressive. In fact, the Emperor’s attire is so extravagant he would have made a perfect addition to The Village People. He probably wouldn’t have too difficult of a time impressing the band members during the talent portion of the auditions. Even though he can’t blow fire or walk on stilts, he’s great at picking which eunuch is which while blindfolded. And while the cinematography is indeed amazing in the film, we should not forget the gorgeous camerawork in Leonard Part 6 done by Jan de Bont. De Bont would later go on to become a director and steal Bertolucci’s other leader, the Little Buddha Keanu Reaves, for his film Speed.
Like the headquarters in Rambo: First Blood Part II, Coca-Cola makes numerous appearances throughout this film, once again pissing off Pepsi honcho Miss Mommie Dearest. I guess Jell-O wasn’t enough for Cosby, he was also a spokesperson for Coke at the time, which in turn happened to own Columbia at the time, which happened to be the studio behind Leonard Part 6. While it’s not quite Inchon being backed by the Unification Church and God, Coke is almost as powerful, so I guess we know who to thank for this film being made. Perhaps New Coke sponsored Leonard Part 1-5 and that’s why we haven’t seen those.
The twentieth century brought us two rulers who could say anything and their followers wouldn’t question them. In The Last Emperor, there is a moment when the Emperor proves to his younger brother that he is all powerful when he makes one of his servants drink a cup of ink. Bill Cosby wrote, produced, and starred in Leonard Part 6, and whenever people would question the progress of the film, Cosby would assure them not to worry, that he knew what he was doing. The production of both films are quite similar. Prior to the filming of The Last Emperor, nobody was allowed to shoot in the Forbidden City, so this is the first time the public has been allowed to see footage of the palace. Meanwhile, after the filming of Leonard Part 6, Bill Cosby would not allow anyone to see footage of the finished film, even going so far as to buying the television rights and not airing it. But someone must have hijacked an ostrich and stolen the print because the film did eventually get released.
After Leonard Part 6 won at the Razzies, it wasn’t as though Bill Cosby was invaded by the Russian Army, he was still the Emperor of Television. He demanded that the usual $5 plastic raspberry statue instead be made of 24 carat gold and Italian marble. Of course, just like the ink drinking eunuchs, nobody could say no to Mr. Huxtable and he got his $27,000 golden raspberry statue. All The Last Emperor got was 9 out of 9 golden Oscars.
[author image=”https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/t1/55_534157521904_4130_n.jpg” ]Jeff spends too much time watching movies, but when he’s not watching them, he helps make them by working in the grip and electric department. Some would say he chose this profession because of the thrill of being on set and helping create art, but the real reason is most G&E don’t need to wear pants. Along with being a film nerd, Jeff enjoys riding his bike everywhere around the Southern California and watching his friends perform improv.[/author]