John Lone did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Aisin-Gioro Puyi in The Last Emperor.
The Last Emperor despite being nominated for nine Oscars, all of which it won, it did not receive a single acting nomination. John Lone despite leading the film was ignored although perhaps it was because he is not the only actor to play Puyi in the film and there are three other actors who play the emperor before Lone takes over Puyi. Lone still undoubtedly makes the most distinct mark on the man as Puyi is portrayed before Lone takes over basically as a spoiled brat of sorts who just wants to enjoy all pleasures he is allowed by being the emperor although at times is troubled by the fact that he really is not in power and is never allowed to leave the Forbidden City.
Films that won best picture that were lead by a historical figures tended to be about people who shaped the world through their influence like George S. Patton, T.E. Lawrence and Mahatma Gandhi. Puyi is the exact opposite whose whole life is shaped by the influence of the world. The earliest chronological moment in which we meet Lone's Puyi is as he is trying to make the smallest measure to control his life in the city which amounts to no more then being able to cut his hair and trying to make it so his servants are not stealing his possessions. Lone portrays Puyi as a young man with small pride in himself and within that sense of power although only a sense of power that in all reality is actually very small.
Quickly enough though Puyi is kicked out of the forbidden city and attempts to live a life of a rich playboy. Lone is terrific in these brief scenes having such false life to him whether he is crooning a song well a minstrel band plays, or taking to the dance floor. Lone brings a bizarre style of charm an enforced charm that is perfect in representing what Puyi is trying for. Lone gives a manufactured artificial performance in this phase of Puyi when he is a manufactured artificial man. Lone fits the surroundings brilliantly and suggests how Puyi fails in this life as well by never quite having the right comfort in these scenes, and by performing the part of Puyi as a purposeful performance.
Puyi's life as the attempted playboy does not last long though as he once again attempts to be the Emperor he is said to be when the Japanese install him as a puppet ruler. Lone is very effective again by showing that Puyi is trying to fulfill some sot of role for himself that may not be himself but is something at the very moment he wants himself to be. Lone is excellent in adjusting himself to Puyi's new model he has set to himself which is the cold proper leader he thinks he should be. Lone accentuates a certain desperation in Puyi's manner as he tries very hard to be a man of power and finally an actual emperor. Lone suggests properly within his stiff posture and cold demeanor he still knows he is a puppet.
What Lone always does importantly in his performance is he is never just the surface of the man in his performance even though much of Puyi's later life is that of a superficial man. There is one absolutely outstanding moment where Puyi's wife is taken away for treatment of her opium addiction which is killing her. Lone still keeps Puyi in his position until he learns that she has been taken away without his prior knowledge. Lone is very powerful as Puyi watches his life being controlled once more. It is beautiful moment because Lone still shows Puyi as man who is truly emotionally devastated even though all he can is stand and watch as he still has his life controlled by another.
After this point Puyi is put in a reeducation camp and he forced to relieve his past by the camp officials who wish for him to admit to crimes. Lone appears and reappears in these scenes as they flashback to his earlier life. In all of these scenes Lone punctuates every one of the flashbacks through his portrayal of Puyi in his current state. Lone strikes an interesting balance in these scenes as Lone makes Puyi more truthful but a man still holding back in someway. Lone is careful though and is most truthful in the disappointment and sadness in Puyi as he is a man left as prisoner after so many attempts to try to be something more, and no longer with even the illusion of having his own power.
Lone is effective in that he shows that although honest in his sadness Puyi is not quite so in his position and responsibilities yet. It is not the overriding artificiality anymore though as Puyi without a doubt is a defeated man in heart. There still is a defensiveness that Lone properly brings but not longer to try and imagine himself as a different man anymore. The defensiveness instead Lone shows to be brought upon a bitterness, a bitterness that leaves him as a man who will try anything even in slightest way to try and not completely accept his current plight. The camp though is not the end of Puyi though as he becomes a gardener when he finally is given his first freedom in life.
Lone is absolutely perfect in these final but pivotal scenes as the elderly Puyi. Firstly in a more technical sense Lone ages very natural and he is utterly believable as the older Puyi. More importantly though Lone brings a tremendous poignancy to these scenes as he portrays Puyi's late life. Where Puyi is left is as a humble gardener but finally allowed to live not by the direct control of others. Lone portrays finally a man of contentment and happiness in a way that was not evident before. He is particularly moving in his final scene as Puyi visits the Forbidden city alone and Lone shows a man who can finally treasure his life in a way he never could well he experienced it.
Lone actually has quite the challenge in his performance in that aside from the scenes set in the communist prison camp the film moves quickly from one point to another in regards to Puyi's position and character. To Lone's great credit his work never suffers from other performances that are set in such restrictions. Lone keep Puyi as a fluid character in his performance and is able to move through his life in the efficient and effective manner. In Lone's work there is not the disconnection that is quite possible from these technical restrictions. These changes can even be quite extreme at times yet Lone still is entirely believable in every part of Puyi's story. Lone's gives a great performance which creates a remarkable portrait of an emperor who could not even control his own life.