Thursday, 19 September 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1987: John Lone in The Last Emperor

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 is a strangely underrated best picture winner that depicts the life of the last emperor of China.

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.

25 comments:

Michael McCarthy said...

Yesssssss still in this!

Psifonian said...

Truly a fantastic masterclass. Lone broke my heart.

Fritz said...

Yes, he was really great!

mrripley said...

A gr8 review and a fantastic perf,robin williams over this.

RatedRStar said...

John Lone is another actor with a cool voice =D, I cant believe Lone was nominated for 2 Golden Globes (Year Of The Dragon being the other) and not get an Oscar nomination.

RatedRStar said...

Also since Oscar Season seems to have started, what actors/directors/films are people on this blog rooting for to get nominations this year.

RatedRStar said...

I really hope Bruce Dern does not win for Nebraska, he is not overdue as all the critics say, just because he is old and crusty like a piece of bread doesn't make him in a overdue actor.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'd love to see Matthew McConaughey win for Dallas Buyers Club. His work has been getting really good the past couple years and an Oscar win would totally solidify his reputation as a serious actor. I'd also like to see Michael Fassbender get supporting for 12 Years a Slave, it looks like he's gonna be great and he's yet to receive a nomination. I'm still rooting for Cate Blanchett for best actress in Blue Jasmine but I'm hearing really good things about Judi Dench in Philomena. I'm 90% sure Oprah already has supporting actress in the bag with The Butler. For best picture/director, part of me wants to see it go to American Hustle just because I really like David O. Russell.

RatedRStar said...

I think Fassbender should be a lock now that 12 Years A Slave is getting mega buzz at the moment, imagine 30 Seconds To Mars singer Jared Leto getting nominated for Dallas lol,

Michael Patison said...

Sight unseen, I'm at least rooting for Dallas Buyers Club to get a lot of nominations simply because I'm actually from Dallas. I really hope Matthew McConaughey gets at least a nomination. I'm not sure if I'm to the point that I can say he's a serious actor, but I would give him the win if I think he's the year's best. I think Cate Blanchett has at least a nomination in the bag. Judi Dench does seem like her runner-up right now. Philomena's trailer is really intriguing at least to me, and I could even see Steve Coogan getting some Lead Actor buzz, though his actual nomination chances are all but nothing. I still have no idea what to think of August: Osage County's chances. A director nomination is out of the question for John Wells, but Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep seem like very strong Lead Actress nomination contenders, with Streep probably all but a lock to get one, though I have been known to be wrong before. I'd say that Bruce Dern is a lock for a Lead Actor nom, though I agree that he isn't overdue. Chiwetel Ejiofor also seems pretty likely for 12 Years, as does Michael Fassbender, who I think is all but a love to win at this point of the year, but I don't thing Lupita Nyong'o, despite her rave reviews, will be nominated. Will Forte has an outside Supporting Actor chance for Nebraska. I really hope Oscar Isaac gets the recognition he deserves for Inside Llewyn Davis. I assume the Sandra Bullock will get in for Gravity, with George Clooney a virtual lock for whichever category he ends up fitting in, regardless of how invested or disinterested he is in the role. Alfonso CuarĂ³n is a lock for at least a Director nomination. I could go on but I'll refrain

Anonymous said...

I'm pulling for Wolf of Wall Street to finally get DiCaprio a win. THERE'S a guy who's overdue!

RatedRStar said...

you know what (Koook160 will love this) I would rather see Joaquin Phoenix nominated 7 more times than see George Clooney nominated ever again in his whole life, Im sorry but... George Clooney can go fuck himself, I know I on this blog can go 2 far but Clooney just doesn't deserve another Oscar or nomination compared to DiCaprio and about a million other actors.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm reaaaally excited for Wolf of Wall Street because I love everything Scorsese does, and if DiCaprio gives a deserving performance I'd support him for an oscar win. But I really don't agree with what everyone is saying about him being overdue. He's had 3 nominations, which is more than most actors his age have achieved. When you compare that with older (dare I say better) actors like Peter O'Toole who never won in a 50 year film career, or Gary Oldman who's only gotten one nomination, Leo seems to have it pretty good from the AMPAS.

In short I think Leo's great and I hope he wins an oscar someday, but I don't think it's a tragedy that he hasn't won just yet.

Anonymous said...

Michael: He's overdue for a WIN.

Mark said...

Louis have you seen all the Best Picture Oscar winners?

Louis Morgan said...

Yes I have.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Since everyone's chiming in on predictions, here's what I'm guesing:

Picture: I'm going against my own rule in predicting it the winner so early, but Twelve Years a Slave seemed to have bowled critics over entirely.

Actor: Ejifor. Seriously, those reviews bordered on masturbation.

Actress: Blanchett. I have no problems with this because she was great, though apparently Bullock is a force to be reckoned with in Gravity.

Supporting Actor: I should say Fassbender, but Jared Leto's across-theboard praise for Dallas Buyer's Club puts him in a stronger position than anyone would think.

Supporting Actress: Oprah. Fuck it, she wins whether we like it or not. I don't particularly, but hey, what do I know?

As for ones I want, Before Midnight should sweep in a perfect world. It probably won't even get a screenplay nod, but I can dream. Bradley Cooper managed to deliver a career best in The Place Beyond the Pines that ended up being better than the film itself. Same goes for Harrison Ford in 42, who somehow managed to display genuine warmth and emotion in a VERY Oscar-baiting role. His line delivery was what sold it, though. If anyone gets a nomination for The Butler, it should be David Olewoyo. Of course he won't, but you never know. Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannanvale deserve almost as much credit for Blue Jasmine as Blanchett, yet they seem to be somewhat ignored.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

On a more related route, Louis, would you object to a bundle review for the Supporting players of Princess Bride? In other words, Patinkin, Sarandon, Shawn, and Guest all being reviewed as a whole? They were all so good.

mrripley said...

Anyone think Streep could go the way of Jack in The Departed and one of her flashier co stars gets her reserved spot.

RatedRStar said...

I hope so, August Osage Country just looks like trashy Oscar bait to the max.

Anonymous said...

Louis, you say you've seen all the Best Picture winners, and your favourite is Amadeus. So...what's your least favourite?

Michael McCarthy said...

My guess would be Cimarron

Louis Morgan said...

koook160: I'll certainly consider it, I actually already plan to do one double up on a film already.

Anonymous: As Michael predicted correctly Cimarron.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You mean Full Metal Jacket? I figured that. If you like River's Edge as much as me, you could do a double one for that movie with Daniel Roebuck alongside my winning request for Dennis Hopper.

Louis Morgan said...

That's a good guess.