Mao’s Last Dancer (2009) Film Review

Mao’s Last Dancer
Director: Bruce Beresford
Australia, 2009

Based on his bestselling autobiography, the dramatized story of Li Cunxin escaping from Communist China is not a particularly unique one. Handpicked from a dusty village in rural China, a young Li is forced to abandon his family and attend the most prestigious (and rigorous) arts school in all of China. At first, Li is inattentive, unmotivated. But, after viewing a tape of Baryshnikov (another ballet dancer who defected from his communist homeland), Li is inspired to become the greatest ballet dancer in the entire world.

His fame eventually leads him to an exchange program with the Houston Ballet Company. It is here in America where his talents and love for ballet are allowed to thrive. Li falls in love not only with the freedom of dancing in America, but a young American woman who attends the same school. It is from there that Li fights for his right to stay in America. But what will his desire for freedom cost him, and his family back home?

Strands of “Farewell My Concubine” and “Forever Enthralled” are (unavoidably) wrapped around the film. Director Bruce Beresford is more than capable, but “Mao’s Last Dancer” lacks the depth and familiarity that Chen Kaige has expressed over and over again on the subject of culture vs Communism. But what the film does offer is an exemplary physical performance by debut actor and Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Chi Cao. His physical prowess in the movie is breathtaking; watching his performances in the film is on the level of watching Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. I don’t watch much ballet, but after seeing this film it was easier to appreciate the art of dance. Coupled with some genuinely touching moments, satisfying performances from the leads Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood and Joan Chen, and exquisite dance cinematography, “Mao’s Last Dancer” is sure to please anyone looking for a pleasant, visually stimulating film with an inspirational story attached.

This film marks the opening night of SIFF 2010 at the Everett Performing Arts Center. Kyle MacLachlan, the Northwest native famous for his starring roles in the Twin Peaks series and Dune, will be in attendance at the Everett Opening Night. His role in the film as the immigration lawyer who represents Li is understated yet excellent, much like Mr. Maclaclan always is.

The film screens at the Seattle International Film Festival on these dates at these locations

Written by
Allen Huang

Allen is a writer/organizer/manager based in Taipei, Taiwan. You can read his work on Redefine and Asian Junkie. You can follow him on twitter at @therealhojo.

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Written by Allen Huang
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