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A drama based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet.Written by
Joan Chen and Cunxin Li share similar experiences in life: both were born in 1961, they were picked at a young age to pursue an artistic career and they both came to the United States in 1981. See more »
The film does not show Houston as it was 1981-86. For instance, when Cunxin first arrives in Houston, he and Stevenson drive past a Ferris Wheel, which did not exist in 1981. Many of the buildings were not there either. In addition, the Wortham Center was not complete until 1987. From 1969 to 1987, the Houston Ballet danced in Jones Hall, which is still in use for many other performances. However the Director may have chosen Wortham considering it architecturally and environmentally more grand, and timing off by only a year. Beresford may not have considered the environs of Jones Hall as attractive. There may have also been time and budget constraints on researching old photos of downtown, using CGI, etc. See more »
A moving tale that captures the beauty and inspiration of a man forced to make extraordinary decisions
Mao's last Dancer tells the true story of Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin who grew up in rural poverty in Mao's communist before being given the opportunity to dance in the West in the early 80s. Li is forced to examine his conscience as he must choose between his career, family, culture, politics and love whilst having to make heart-wrenching decisions of what he must choose to sacrifice and what he must choose to save.
Li Cunxin is played magnificently by Chi Cao (as an adult) as well as Chengwu Guo (as a teenager). Chi Cao, a highly recognised ballerino in his own right, must receive the bulk of the accolades for what is truly a seamless breakthrough performance by a first time actor. The rest of the cast are also fantastic including Bruce Greenwood who plays the difficult and complex part of a slightly camp Ballet Director who must confront his own values.
Kyle MacLachlan ("Sex and the City") takes a relatively brief but delightfully forceful turn as a Houston lawyer and Australians will delight in the cameo by the ever wonderful Jack Thompson.
As an Australian production I was extraordinarily proud. Bruce Beresford has produced arguably his finest picture to date (and yes, I've seen "Driving Miss Daisy") as the pacing, musical score, use of ballet on camera and story structure were all pitch perfect. The film jumps around between 80s USA and Li's Chinese upbringing at the beginning before settling into a groove during the middle and end. And just when the film could be in danger of straining it's audience Beresford delivers moments of levity and humour that remind us of the characters' humanity.
The backdrop of politics against which the film plays is neither ignored nor focused on. Had it gone one way or the other, the film wouldn't have worked nearly so well but Beresford dealt with this delicate theme with such craftsmanship that it never becomes an issue for the audience.
Jan Sardi (who also wrote Shine and the Notebook) has also produced a highly commendable script for what must have been a daunting project - given the success of the book the movie is based on.
At 132 minutes, the film is long and this can be felt slightly in the middle. However, the fault is only minor and I defy any viewer to watch this without being moved by Li's story.
Many who have read Li's memoirs (as I have) will be anxious to know whether the movie does the book justice. I'm overjoyed to say that it does. I openly wept several times in the film as did most of the audience members around me. There were a few subplots and parts of the novel left out but I found that, unusually, this didn't bother me as much as it normally does with movies based on true stories.
This is because the film told the essence of Li's story extraordinarily well in this irresistibly moving telling of one man's struggle as he's caught between two cultures at a time of when they were pushing against each other.
This year's Slumdog Millionaire upstart is Mao's Last Dancer.
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