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 »
When Liz is leaving for San Francisco, She is driving out of the street.
In the corner, it is obvious in the corner there is a street post saying "Darling St." in Sydney, with the City of Sydney logo on it. This scene is played in Houston. See more »
Bruce Beresford is one veteran Australian director who can produce popular films, and this one is definitely a crowd-pleaser, at least for the crowd that likes to watch dance. The story itself (naïve young dancer from totalitarian regime defects to the freedom of the West) is pretty hackneyed but is framed by some exquisite dancing scenes. My former Red Guard colleague "Robin" thought that the protagonist Li Cunxin was a bit of a goose, for, given his extraordinary talent, if he had gone back to China he would have reached the top of the dance establishment. Instead, seduced by the shopping malls and high rise of Houston as well as by a young American dancer, and outraged when he discovers the Party has lied to him about America, he defects, causing a minor diplomatic incident and cutting himself off for the time being at least from his family. Still, he was only 18 at the time.
The two actors portraying Li, Chengwu Gao as a boy and Chi Cao as an 18 year old, do excellent work, given that neither is a professional. In fact all the Chinese actors were terrific. The American / Australian support cast was OK (Jack Thomson reprising his good ole legal boy act, Kyle Maclachlan playing a straight role), though I found Bruce Greenwood as the Houston Dance Company director Ben Stevenson mildly irritating. One does see his point, however, about most of the Chinese dancers being athletes rather than artists. There were some sloppy aspects. Some of the Houston scenes were filmed in Balmain, Sydney, green street signs and all, which by no stretch of the imagination looks anything like anywhere in Houston. Yet Beresford filmed in Houston, and went to considerable trouble to film in China. The Qintao village scenes are beautifully composed and the very last scene shows how Beresford must have convinced suspicious local party officials that he was making a movie they could approve of. I guess he didn't show them the scenes with the Madam Mao–like character chucking her weight about.
It's not mentioned in the film, but it's well known that when Li's dance career came to an end he re-trained as a stockbroker, an unlikely "happy ever after" scenario. He now lives in Melbourne. Beresford and Jan Sardi based the script on Li's own best-selling memoir and there's no doubt they have added something, if only some great ballet scenes – the extract from Stravinsky's "Firebird was fabulous.
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