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Mao's Last Dancer (2009)

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In Maoist China, a boy is taken from his family and trained to become a dancer, but everything he knows is challenged when he is chosen to attend a ballet summer school in Houston, Texas.


Bruce Beresford


Jan Sardi (screenplay), Cunxin Li (autobiography)
6 wins & 20 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Chi Cao ... Li - as an adult
Bruce Greenwood ... Ben Stevenson
Penne Hackforth-Jones Penne Hackforth-Jones ... Cynthia Dodds
Christopher Kirby ... Mason (as Chris Kirby)
Suzie Steen ... Betty Lou
Madeleine Eastoe Madeleine Eastoe ... Lori
Aden Young ... Dilworth
Wen Bin Huang Wen Bin Huang ... Li - as a child
Shu Guang Liang Shu Guang Liang ... Jing Tring - 8 yrs
Ye Wang Ye Wang ... Cunfar - 14 yrs
Neng Neng Zhang Neng Neng Zhang ... Gong Mei
Wan Shi Xu Wan Shi Xu ... Shen Yu
Shao Wei Yi Shao Wei Yi ... Yang Ping
Hui Cong Zhan Hui Cong Zhan ... Teacher Song
Ji Feng Sun Ji Feng Sun ... Headmaster


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 Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Before You Can Fly You Have To Be Free.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for a brief violent image, some sensuality, language and incidental smoking | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »





English | Mandarin

Release Date:

1 October 2010 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El prodigio See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

AUD 2,754,617 (Australia), 4 October 2009, Limited Release

Opening Weekend USA:

$199,657, 22 August 2010, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$4,806,750, 5 December 2010
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Chi Cao's parents were two of Cunxin Li's former teachers at the Beijing Dance Academy. Li wanted Cao to portray him. See more »


About halfway through the film, Li Cunxin is eating at a Chinese restaurant. He asks Liz to try something he calls "vegetable from sea." However, the brown morsel he places between his chopsticks and in her mouth has the shape, color and texture of a piece of a Shiitake mushroom or another type of fungus. See more »


Li - as an adult: Um... this all me?
See more »


Referenced in Maltin on Movies: The Switch (2010) See more »


Written by Adolphe Adam (As A. Adam) and Friedrich Burgmüller (asF. Burgmuller)
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A beautiful personal movie of two cultures and ballet
3 November 2012 | by keachsSee all my reviews

I don't normally watch many movies about ballet, I respect it as an art form but as a guy, just don't "get it". This movie however, transcends the ballet aspect because it involves a personal and true-to-life story. I think the film captures well post-revolutionary China and the US in the early 1980's.

Even though the story is based on a actual events and you know actors are portraying these real people, the acting is quite believable (both Chinese and Western) . The dancing scenes are quite good, this coming from a layman. Chi Cao's acting was a bit forced as it was apparent that though he was Asian, probably was probably well versed in Western culture. (Being an Westen cultured Asian myself) it takes one to know one. This very slight oversight can be forgiven, given that Chi Cao's dancing is obviously authentic.

The early relationship of Li Cunxin and Elizabeth is very well portrayed, capturing the cultural differences which were a bit more pronounced 30 years ago. There were some very touching family scenes that made me cry.

I had not heard of Bruce Beresford before, but I see by his filmography that he has had a long and distinguished career and may check out more of his films. Yet another underrated and unappreciated gem of a film which deserves more exposure, squeezed out by the big studios and their big marketing budgets churning out inferior, self gratifying fare.

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