The Last Emperor – a film that would never be made in today’s China

Cultural regression is rather unfortunate, particularly when it’s managed by The State. But you’ve got to hand it to the goon squads. In the internet age it’s impossible to control all information, but they certainly seem to try. For instance, these idiots tried to show Game of Thrones except they removed all the sex and violence. This means that the show aired as a blank screen for 45 of each 50 minute episode.

And they attempted this censorship in an online age where a properly self-taught seven year old could just torrent download the entire series from a cobweb infested server in Uruguay in only a few hours. This is desired mind control guided by sheer stupidity. And the funniest part is it’s a step backwards.

A few weeks ago I rewatched The Last Emperor and surprisingly discovered that the dudes banning Game of Thrones would never have let this movie get filmed in China three decades ago. In other words, in many ways China’s cultural gatekeepers were more open in 1987 than in 2015. What’s going on?

To get to the bottom of this most devious of the planet’s mysteries we reached out to our old buddy Cai Wu to get his personal and experienced take.



John Loan channels his inner Matrix; or was it the other way around?


The Arcturus Project: Brother, how’ve you been? How’s the French coast?

Cai Wu: Magnificent! We’re actually docked at Monte Cristo for the week. I’m hosting tonight, it’s going to be one hell of a bash. We’re having endangered rhino steaks.

TAP: So, like, isn’t Monte Cristo deserted?

CW: Hahaha, yes, I’ve learned quite a bit about how the world really works since I cashed in…

TAP: I see.

CW: …so when we were in Genoa; I was at this wine tasting hosted by some Russian oil shit; and it was one of those where there was so much wealth in the room you broke the glass after each taste; and some pawn just always brought you a new one; and then this Sardinian bird wouldn’t leave me alone; and she and some nihilist tool from Belgrade start going off about Monte Cristo and bribing the Forestry Corps to set up there for a bit; and so she grabs my hand and I start reaching for my wallet to help; but then Klaus grabs my shoulder and he’s like…

TAP: Wu. Wu!

CW: Yes?

TAP: So dude, I just want to talk about the movie today.

CW: Oh, okay, sure, I’m in no hurry. I have all of my life, hehehe.

TAP: [shuffles papers] Hey bro, that’s great.

CW: Yes.

TAP: Ah, so, uh in ’87 you were fairly new right?

CW: Oh yes, yes. Wang Meng ran the coordination with Jeremy Thomas and so I guess you could say I was a bit of an understudy, if that’s the right word. Meng and I were wasted one night, and he’s shouts in my ear over the bar noise, “I’ve done it, Deng’s going to let us do it! We’re filming in the Forbidden City!” And I think he’s shitting me, he’s totally out of his damn mind. You’ve got to remember, you guys have this positive opinion of Deng, but back then we were all still afraid of him. Nobody ever really knew what he was thinking. So at first I was worried they were testing Meng.

TAP: So they could lock him up again?

CW: Or something, something to get him tossed. I mean, the Forbidden fucking City, no way, no way can we do this. Not for some foreign dog film company. I don’t think I actually believed it, even after we met with Thomas in person. Only when we rolled cameras on set did I believe it was real.

TAP: Did it in any way bother you guys or strike you as risky that Bernardo Bertolucci was a depraved sexual deviant?

CW: Oh, of course! I remember hearing the rumors from an idle stagehand, I, of course had never seen Last Tango in Paris, never, and I can recall running up to Meng and explaining the history of this creep. But you know, Meng was rather old fashioned, in the sense that he’d seen it all, been jailed and so on. So I can remember him, I’m paraphrasing, “Wu, whatever, the West runs on sex, so let them have this pervert. It’ll sell China with more tickets. I don’t care.”

TAP: And you all let him essentially run with it too, he’s even got an implied orgy scene in the flick that’s going on inside the freaking City.

CW: Yes, yes. I kept waiting for the censors to viciously axe that. And then they’d beat the shit out of Meng. But honestly, I think they didn’t know what was going on. I think that’s why Bertolucci did that whole scene beneath a blanket. You’ve got to understand, all censor freaks are ingrained losers. They’re the D students of the human race, and none of them have ever been laid. So I think they were probably like, “Eh, they’re just hugging under there. Scene’s good. Next!”

TAP: Did that kind of cultural misunderstanding guide a lot of production?

CW: Eh, yes and no. We weren’t all idiots. But remember, this project has Deng’s approval. Deng’s got Bertolucci and Thomas inside the City. And so Meng and I and the others, we’re pushing it, we’re constantly like, “Hmm, what can we get away with?” And everybody was hesitant, I think, to say no to anybody. Nobody wants to say no to a product that Deng’s backing.

TAP: And then Elizabeth’s visit is a lower priority than you guys.

CW: No shit! That’s what I mean. The writing was on the wall, Deng’s behind this, let them run the production. The queen of barbarian England is here, but she can’t visit the City, because we’re filming. We’re the priority. First off, that was a delicious finger at the English dogs, but also like I said, it gave us the impression that we could get away with almost anything.

TAP: And does that then explain the numerous other scenes that got past the censors?

CW: Like what?

TAP: Ordinary Chinese bowing before the Emperor, the unhinged Party prison interrogator whom the Governor despises, the Governor getting denounced by the Cultural Revolution hit squad, the acceptance that the Emperor took responsibility for crimes that were solely the fault of the Japs…

CW: Look, look, remember in retrospect Deng’s backing this. He has a goal, I think. This was part of his effort to liberalize and open us up to the planet. So if Bertolucci takes a few shots at the Party, eh, I think Deng saw that as a win. A chance to show the West that this was a new China, one that was confident enough to allow self-criticism. Which makes sense, since productive self-criticism is one of the key themes of the whole fucking movie!

TAP: So was it that, or like you said earlier, just that the censors weren’t up on their game?

CW: Let’s call it both, eh! Why not? The little freaks had never censored an approved foreign movie before and so they did a shit job. But also Deng’s letting everybody get away with it, so why not?

TAP: But not today right, you mention the confidence. I think that’s the key three decade difference, right?

CW: Oh yes, yes indeed. So it seems strange because we’re so much more powerful now but I think it’s a lack of confidence overall. Back then, we’d work hard, get fucked up on cognac at night, and then do it again the next day. Meaning, “We are China. This is who we are. Fuck you all. We’re ready to play now.” We were happy to show off. And now it’s changed, that’s part of why I bought my boat out here. Now back home, it’s this defensive attitude. It’s now become, “We are China. Stay out of our business. Don’t pollute us.” And I used to ask, aghast, “Are we not the Center of the Universe? Why can’t we show the damn lesbian scene from Game of Thrones? Who gives a shit? We can stand on our own now. This isn’t going to degrade our glorious culture. We’re bigger than this petty shit.” But they don’t listen.

TAP: Is everybody just too risk averse now?

CW: Maybe, yes, ah [swigs drink] I guess I don’t know for sure. You know, el Presidente Xi, he’s really tightening the fist. He’s got everybody running scared. So it’s the hesitation to allow anything. But also not only a refusal to take risks, but also the need to say “Stop!” as loud as you can. Then you’re proving you’re part of the team. That you’re a true believer. Then they’ll let you in the door to play. Disgusting. It’s like they think if you let somebody see an arm chopped off on screen folks will be burning down Party headquarters in Guangzhou by morning. It’s lunacy.

TAP: And now everything is made shit instead of art.

CW: No kidding. You know that’s the thing, The Last Emperor is a pretty good movie. And now we’ve got what, The Flowers of War? I had to sling that garbage for months. Nobody cared. And the flick was average at best. Do you know why?

TAP: Because Bale’s not as chiseled as he once was?

CW: No, no, because it’s safe! It’s a very nice, safe, model little flick. And it’s boring. It’s like a documentary drenched is emotional sap music. It’s like a Party computer wrote and directed the damn thing. And all of Yimou’s brilliance is replaced by machine code.

TAP: So he sold out, so did you. It happens.

CW: No, no, fuck you. Remember you inked our deal too, you’re involved. And at least I no longer fake it. I’m open about my opinions now. But Yimou’s now directing tool scripts written by former Cultural Revolution thugs, the very mutants he used to mock on screen. Now he’s a team player. Disgusting.

TAP: The world’s a very creepy place.

CW: Not on Monte Cristo, my friend. Here, all of life makes sense.

TAP: I’m envious.

CW: Where the hell are you calling from anyways?

TAP: My cubicle.

CW: Oh, oh, you dirty pawn. Does the company know you’re interviewing my drunken ass for a shitty blog site on their dime?

TAP: I’m well beyond caring what they think here. This place is the consummate mess.

CW: Ah, hehehe, then just leave right now. Drop everything. Take a few days no notice. Come to Monte Cristo. I’ll recharge your zest for life.

TAP: Your spontaneity does not reflect the reality of my dogs.

CW: Bring them! They can hunt the local wildlife. The virgin wildlife here knows nothing of humans or dogs, and thus has no accompanying natural fear, they’ll be easy picking!

TAP: I don’t want to cause trouble.

CW: No trouble, remember for the next week the Forestry Corps is in our pockets. Humanity has wiped out the wildlife on deserted islands before. We can do it again!

TAP: Perhaps some other time.

CW: Eh, eh, whatever. You call me anytime.

TAP: I might be out of gas on China for this blog for a while.

CW: You asshole, you haven’t called me for a year. What’s another year? I’m not going anywhere. The Med’s a big place, my friend!

TAP: Indeed.


[raucous drunken group island party signing] CW: “Hey Xi! [echoes] Fuucccck yoooou!” [raucous drunken group island party signing]

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