Mao's Last Dancer (2009) Poster

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A moving tale that captures the beauty and inspiration of a man forced to make extraordinary decisions
ChrisThurston4 October 2009
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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Mao's dancer becomes capitalist roader
Philby-327 October 2009
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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A beautifully told movie
jharmon-195 October 2009
My husband and I went to see this movie yesterday and thought the acting was great from relatively unknown, at least to us, actors. I had some idea of what the movie was about prior to going to see it but it was even better than my expectations, and the lead actor was a truly magnificent dancer, as were the others.

The story was moving with a few humorous moments, and showed how disciplined a person must be in order to become a great dancer. I have to say it has been my experience that people generally leave before the credits but, like myself, they stayed, which says something for the acting and the movie itself.

I would recommend this movie to everyone, even those who are not fans of ballet.
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A sure fire Oscar contender
Casablanca37845 September 2010
A charming, stirring, visually and emotionally stirring film. The best I've thus far seen in '10. The story of a mainland Chinese 11 year old boy,supposedly forever indoctrinated by daily school- taught commie propaganda garbage,is chosen to attend a special school to be trained for ballet. He does well and in due time, is sent to the USA to the Houston Ballet Company. Then and there he awakens to not only his manhood but to the realization that all he's been taught about the "glory of Chairman Mao's communist revolution, was the furthest thing from the truth. Not only is the lead a wonderful danseur but his acting ability could win him a Best Actor nomination as well. A film NOT TO BE MISSED.
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Not your average dance film.
diane-3423 January 2010
Diane and I saw this excellent movie at Paradiso in Northbridge two days ago and we both were entranced by the beauty and sensitivity of Mao's Last Dancer. I admit that I was none too anxious about seeing this film about dancing but after the opening scenes in rural China and a quick cut to Li Cunxin and early dance years and I had become a total fan of the movie. Beresford's direction married to the acting and dancing ability of Chi Cao result in a movie about dance but that theme is only the canvas upon which this moving and quite dramatic story unfolds. The resulting movie is far, far more complex than I thought as I entered the theatre. Yes, of course, the ballet sequences are glorious to watch but this film, as I said, is not just about dancing. The script explores international politics, domestic trauma, family bonds, interpersonal tension and these are only my random memories. At the start of the film, I could not believe that so many hugely dramatic instances could flow from the life of a young man born into less than salubrious circumstances in rural China. There are many different scenes; Beresford edited the film in fast sequences and the total is amazingly complicated; I am in awe of such a complex life so richly lived. Put Mao's Last Dancer on your must-see list!
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inspiring story and a truly brilliant movie
custanius-544-6790011 October 2009
To be honest, I've never actually finished Li's book. I had the vague idea its about a boy from my hometown that went on to become one of the best ballet dancers, but then, being a Chinese immigrant myself, I'm not particularly pleased with people 'cashing in' on their stories. After all, his story, in fact, was of particular interests to westerners because of the clashes of cultural identities between two worlds, which i and many thousands if not millions more overseas Chinese experience everyday. But after watching the movie, I have to say I loved it. The directing truly captured the struggle of a man torn apart between what 'ought to do' and what 'should do'.

I was born in Qingdao, China.So the connection between me and Li's story is very strong. Mr. Li is just about my parent's generation, so in a way, I can see his struggle in my own world, everyday. Qingdao is never short of artistic talent, to many, artistic talent is the only way out. 'There's no national boundaries in art', my parents used to tell me. When I was five my parents bought me my first piano, which cost them an entire year's savings, but it was seen as a valuable investment, 'art will pave the way to success', they used to say. Like my classmates in the piano class, I used to rise up 5 in the morning and practice until its time to go to school, only to come home then stay practicing until 10. Going to Beijing and to study in one of the national music academy would be many of my fellow classmate's dream. I can feel the pride Li's parents had when he went to America, I can also feel the pain he felt when he decided to stay in America. To Li and many others, to become what he was when he went to Beijing would be everything anyone could ever wanted. What more can he hope to achieve? He could've been the best ballet teacher in China, with fame and fortune to boot, but he threw all that away because of love and freedom. I don't believe it was because of money or fame, it was simply a choice made in a heartbeat by a young man who believes in himself.Was it selfish? I don't know. I'm confronted with this question everyday while I'm in Australia, to many Chinese and spectators, Li's action is selfish indeed, abandoning his duties, his parents and his place in the society pursuing freedom and love in a westerner's world. But the longer I stayed in western world, the harder I ponder that question, what is duty? and more importantly, what is a son's duty to his parents? to his nation? The value system is obviously very different back then, Li, who's seeking individual happiness didn't fit into a collective society like China. But, he also had the fortune to be plucked, trained and nurtured to become what he was. Should he repay his 'debt' by going back to China? or should he capitalise on what he has gained and achieve greater personal glory? It's easy to answer for anyone in a particular value group, but for Li and many Chinese overseas, it can be a life-long dilemma. After all, Li's fortunate enough to be sitting comfortably somewhere in Australia writing his book, many buried talents are somewhere in a dusted corner in China tutoring next generations of wannabe talents. But his fortune also comes from perseverance and handwork, from a heart to pursue what he truly believes in. To that end, the movie tells a brilliant story of a brave young man.
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Fantastic True Story of a Chinese Ballet Dancer
claudio_carvalho4 August 2012
In a village of China, the eleven year-old Li Cunxin is selected by the Comunist Party to study ballet at the Madame Mao's Dance Academy in Beijing. Years later, he travels to Houston in a cultural exchange program invited by the artistic director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) and he is promoted to principal dancer of the Houston Ballet. Meanwhile he secretly dates and falls in love with the dancer Elizabeth Mackey (Amanda Schull).

When the China's government asks Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) to return to his country, he marries Liz and defects to USA. He is forbidden to return to China and has no news of his parents and family. Meanwhile, his marriage with Liz ends and he misses his parents. But five years later, he has a great surprise during a performance.

"Mao's Last Dancer" is a film about the true story of the Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin. The engaging biography of Li Cunxin is an example of discipline and strength associated with courage to make the right decisions, and it is amazing how a boy from a poor village in China could have become a great ballerino in the West.

Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen are well known actors and are fantastic, but Chi Cao, Chengwu Guo and the rest of the cast and dancers have also top-notch performances. Everything is perfect in this film, from the direction of Bruce Beresford to the cinematography and art direction. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "O Último Bailarino de Mao" ("The Last Ballerino of Mao")
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A Bruce Beresford masterpiece
brimon2826 September 2009
This cineaste and balletomane had given up many years ago any hope of ever seeing the dance rendered adequately on film. Enter Bruce Beresford. I suppose every ladies' book club in the English-speaking world has read Mao's Last Dancer, so if you wanted to make a film based on that autobiography, you'd first have to find a brave director. Well, this is it. Linking together life in desolate inner China and a sophisticated western world has been done before. But there is an emotional story here, and the casting agencies deserve enormous credit for finding such competent people. I mean, do you find an actor and teach him to dance, or do you get a dancer to act? Whatever; the lead in this film can dance very well indeed, and his acting is more than competent. I won't retell the story. Just let it be said, that at the performance I saw, most of the audience sat through the credits. Those who left early looked mystifed by the applause. A ladies' book club cum chick flick? I think not. Sure, the tissues were out, but this is one surely exciting film.
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A beautiful personal movie of two cultures and ballet
keachs3 November 2012
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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Brilliant and Classic
leiser1831 August 2010
Mao's Last Dancer is a brilliantly made movie, thanks to the flawless direction of Bruce Beresford. I had not even heard of this film until I saw a local ad for it. I also didn't know about the book. I watched this movie with eyes wide open! The dancing blew me away, and yes, I have to admit, I cried several times. The story of Li Cunxin is amazing. He is played magnificently by Chi Cao (as an adult), who, I understand, is a well known Chinese dancer in his own right. Bruce Greenwood, which I like very much, plays the role of the Houston Ballet Director with absolute perfection. Several reviews have included the plot of the film, so I'm not going to get into here. I only want to stress to everyone who has not seen this movie, don't miss it!!! And bring a box of hankies...
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Equal parts depressing, heart-warming, gut-wrenching and uplifting, Li's tale was meant for the big screen.
Troy_Campbell1 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Never having read the book, and only vaguely knowing the story from the trailer, I went into Mao's with a clean slate. This was for the best I believe. Other than the major moment in Li's life – his refusal to leave America – I was unaware of what was to come and as such felt the full effect of every emotional twist and turn that Li, and those around him, took. Equal parts depressing, heart-warming, gut-wrenching and uplifting, Li's tale was meant for the big screen.

Bruce Beresford's (Driving Miss Daisy) direction is occasionally hampered by over-indulgence, a small price to pay for allowing the free-flowing ballet performances all the air they need to breathe. When focussing on the younger Li in China it is slightly clichéd (even the score sounds somewhat stereotypical) and run-of-the-mill, however by the time we settle in on the adult Li, Beresford has really hit his stride and delivers an absolutely engrossing and affecting film. The tears may flow for a lot of people, but these scenes are authentic and touching, escaping the melodrama that often rears its ugly head at those moments.

The drama plays a big part in this extraordinary tale, although it wouldn't have worked if the mesmeric dancing wasn't front and centre. Without these sequences showcasing what the ballet virtuoso was really capable of, we wouldn't be able to believe the lengths these people went to just to ensure Li got his chance to shine. Fortunately, the resplendent performances we witness are breathtaking and show-stopping; each terpsichorean routine able to tell an entire story whilst allowing Li an outlet for his deep emotions.

In his first ever acting role, the Beijing Dance Academy and Royal Ballet School student Chi Cao doesn't so much as act as Li Cunxin, he is Li Cunxin. At first glance his silly sounding broken English and awkward attempts at romance seemingly come from lack of acting experience, but then you slowly realise this is what the real Li was most probably like. As Ben Stevenson, the venerable Houston Ballet artistic director who campaigns for Li to study in the U.S., Bruce Greenwood displays terrific diversity, his portrayal is elegantly realised and he ensures Ben's culturally savvy and flamboyant personality stops just short of being priggish. Elsewhere we have fine performances by Joan Cheng, Chengwo Guo and Ferdinand Hoang, with Amanda Schull and Kyle MacLachlan proving the weak links.

Get through the slow first 30 minutes then be prepared to be swept away by an epic real life saga that is best viewed at the cinema.

4 out of 5 (1 - Rubbish, 2 - Ordinary, 3 - Good, 4 - Excellent, 5 - Classic)
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jhcopywriter2620 January 2012
As a former ballerina for Houston Ballet, I couldn't wait to see this movie and how that time period would be shown. I have not read the book yet but hope to soon. The actor who played Li was wonderful. He reminds me very much of Li as a person and dancer, as I knew him from that time. There are some time line goofs and I certainly remember the craziness when he went missing. I won't say much else about the personal part but I did like the movie as an artistic venture. I can tell you that I would have loved to have seen the night Li's parents came to see him dance. Unfortunately, I had already left the company. In watching the movie, it was a very touching scene. The memories just come rolling back ... A job well done, Li.
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A Chinese Ballet Dancer Does Good
3xHCCH12 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Thanks to Qantas' great in-flight entertainment programme, I was able to watch a very good Australian film entitled "Mao's Last Dancer." I watched it not because of the ballet (which does not really interest me that much), but more about the Cultural Revolution in China which the title seems to suggest.

The story tells the true-to-life experience of a a boy Li Cunxin, born sixth in a poor peasant family with seven sons. He was picked out by the powers that be from a provincial school to train as a ballet dancer in Beijing in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, a visiting American choreographer from Houston noted Li's talent and brought him to the USA to dance, where Li gained fame as a premiere danseur in the short time he was there.

After experiencing first-hand the differences between the living and cultural differences of China and America, Li was faced with a monumental dilemma. Should he return to the motherland to which he had always been taught to be loyal? Or should he remain in his newly found land of freedom and home of the girl he loved?

I really liked the scenes depicting the scenes set in China, rather than those set in the USA. The culture in the community, the filial piety, the rigorous training, the clash of art and politics, even the scene with Madame Mao, were very revealing and touching. Li's conversations with the Chinese consul to the USA were also very interesting.

Chi Cao, who played the adult Li, is a very good dancer, more than he was an actor, but that was quite understandable. He ended his performance of a ballet solo (in "Don Quixote") with such a passionate flourish -- that, for me, was the best dance scene, and Cao's best acting moment in the whole film. I don't know why it was, but every time Li's mother (lovingly played by Joan Chen) appeared on the screen, my eyes would cloud up (which was not too easy to hide in a packed plane, haha!)

Overall, I liked the film. Director Bruce Beresford went a little too melodramatic, but that's fine for me. I do note that most films about that time in China's history would tend to some emotional melodrama. Li's difficult decision makes a riveting conflict, but unfortunately, that part was handled with a rather rushed and simplistic manner, and with a point-of-view that might be biased.
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Hits all the right notes!
aharmas28 August 2010
It's by no means the perfect film; however, when it works, your heart will soar, and you might start believing in the magic of movies again. It's been a great year for showcasing classical music, framing it with hilarious comedy, such as "Le Concert", and now with the beauty and exuberance of ballet in "Mao's Last Dancer", a beautifully told real-life story of a man who opens his mind, heart, and see his dreams come true.

Raised in Communist China, a young man's strong and determined spirit make him climb higher and higher in the competitive world of ballet. With his true and remarkable talents, he conquers obstacle after obstacle, while being lucky enough to have some key people's love and support behind him. Still, it's not an easy journey to fame and fortune.

Somehow, his experiences in Houston are presented a little bit too sanitized, as he assimilates rather quickly into a very foreign universe for him. This is after all, Texas, and he briefly mentions to some derogatory comments, which are rather quickly brushed away by his mentor.

There are some gorgeous moments in the film, mostly involving the presentation of his astounding talents, and some emotional, climatic scenes that are bound to leave everyone in the audience misty-eyed. Bruce Beresford is back again in top form and it's very likely he will be mentioned later on in the year's award race for this is a theme he knows very well: Human spirit's indefatigable power. Be warned, this film will move you and probably lead you to believe just that.
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A story of courage
murray-morison23 September 2011
One clever element of this film is the way in which various people who are significant in Li Cunxin's life, tell him stories with a message. The frog trapped at the bottom of a well is one. He hears from a toad at the top of the well that the big wide world is worth seeing.

The whole film is a story with a message - and the message is one that uplifts without in any sense being cloying. Beresford, the director, even manages at several stages to invoke the idiom of Chinese revolutionary film and theatre. The scenes actually shot in China are some of the most authentic in the film, which is not uniformly good in this regard. Somehow, the slightly stagy acting of some of the Huston Ballet Company characters, ceases to matter because the lead parts are well carried and the storyline is strong.

Li Cunxin defected to America partly for his art and partly for love. The wonders of the materiality of Huston are perhaps a poor substitute for losing your country; yet that country was deeply scarred by the Mao's cultural revolution. To watch the part early on where the benefits brought by Chairman Mao to the Chinese people, are laid out by Party Functionaries, has a dark poignancy, given that today we know he was directly responsible for the death of many, many millions.

The dance sequences are done very well and the film pleases at that level as well as a tale with more twists and turns than you might imagine.

A film of some subtlety and considerable beauty; recommended.
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Dancing to Freedom
jeddjong26 March 2011
Biopics are a tricky genre of film. Firstly, the person's life must be interesting enough to warrant a film based on it. Then, there's the scope: what years of this person's life and what events does the filmmaker focus on? Also, how much embellishment can be applied to the film while staying true to the life story? Mao's Last Dancer tells the tale of Li Cunxin (Chi as an adult, Guo Chengwu as a teenager, Huang Wenbin as a child), born into poverty in a Qingdao village, and at the age of 11 selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisers to enroll in her Beijing Dance Academy. He leaves his mother (Chen), father (Wang Shuangbao) There, he endures grueling hours and Communist brainwashing.

Li becomes one of the first Chinese dancers to go to America to study dance. He is hosted by the Houston Ballet's artistic director Ben Stevenson (Greenwood). At the last minute, Li is called in to replace the injured principal dancer in a performance of Don Quixote, with Vice-President George Bush one of the guests. Li's passionate dancing takes the community by storm.

Eventually, Li falls in love, with fellow dancer Elizabeth "Liz" Mackey (Amanda Schull). Li and Mackey rush their marriage so that the former may remain in the United States without defecting. An international incident unfolds as the Chinese Communist Party detains Li against his will in their Houston Consulate.

Cut off from his homeland and unable to return, Li continues to dance, but yearns to see his family once again. He gets the chance to perform at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, and two special guests to that performance bring his life full circle.

In many ways, Mao's Last Dancer is a textbook biopic. Li has lived an interesting-enough life. The film shuttles efficiently between his time in Houston and flashbacks to his past as a poor village boy and later student at the Beijing Dance Academy. The film is also based on Li's autobiography of the same name, so chances are it is very true to life.

Director Bruce Beresford, of Driving Miss Daisy fame, brings Li's remarkable story to life in sweeping fashion, with the scenes in the Qingdao village almost reminiscent of now-classic Chinese films like Not One Less. Li's time in the Beijing Dance Academy is also well-portrayed. In one striking scene, Madame Mao herself visits the school, and watches the students perform a European ballet. She then demands to see guns, politics and communist ideals. The students then emerge against a red background in communist uniforms, carrying guns, not so much dancing as marching, as Madame Mao looks on approvingly.

The film is a bit of an expose on Communist China under Mao Zedong, and will be an eye-opener for many viewers unfamiliar with that period in the country's history. Beresford is careful not to turn his film into an overly-political anti-communist spiel, keeping the focus square on Li Cunxin, but also addressing the brainwashing and hothousing, as well as the vilification of capitalism and "imperialism".

Mao's Last Dancer is definitely a tearjerker, but not in a superficial Marley and Me kind of way, where the Kleenex moments are painfully engineered. Here, themes such as love, family and personal identity take their place next to those of east meets west, international relations and political standings, and to marvelous effect.

A good cast is essential in bringing any biopic to life. Principal Dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet Chi Cao handles both the acting and the dancing laudably, especially considering that this is the professional dancer's first film role. Bruce Greenwood is always-dependable as an authority figure, given his pedigree as President in National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets and space captain in Star Trek. His warmth and kindness towards Li effectively contrast the coldness of the communist regime.

Joan Chen, often dubbed the "Meryl Streep of the East", eschews her normally-glamorous demeanor for the grubby face and hands of an honest hardworking farmer in rural Qingdao. Kyle McLachlan looks the part as a lawyer who sorts out Li's immigration woes and veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson cameos as a judge.

Li Cunxin's story is one that deserves to be told on screen, and fortunately, it is told well in a film equal parts artful and emotional, concise and beautiful.
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Even better than the legendary cult movie "The Shawshank Redemption"
kluseba20 March 2011
I didn't expect that much from the movie as I bought it at a cheap price for several reasons. First of all, I am interested in Chinese culture and history and in my university classes, we were recently talking a lot about the era of Mao. Second, I saw that Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen would be starring in this movie and I both adored them in the legendary Twin Peaks series and thought it would be interesting to see them come back together for another movie. I also thought that the artistic side of the movie could be beautiful.

But I didn't expect too see a masterpiece, maybe the best drama I have ever seen in my whole long life. This movie blew me completely away in every sense of the word.

Usually I happen to hate dance movies, but the choreographers' works in this movie are stunning and overall beautiful. The decorations, the music and the dancers are majestic and were touching and you don't have to be a fan of ballet dancing or classical music to feel so.

The acting of the movie was brilliantly played by every single actor. Let's underline the stunning performance of the sympathetic, powerful and yet naive Chi Cao who played his role as if he was really living this. The young actors Wen Bin Huang and Chengwu Guo did also a very great job and I hope to hear and see more of those rather unknown talents very soon. The more well known actors like Bruce Greenwood and Kyle MacLachlan are as always very solid and charismatic.

The story of the movie is highly intriguing and touching. This is a movie about having dreams and ambitions, about fighting and believing, about hope and despair. There is a very philosophical touch in the whole story and thanks to the brilliant acting you get immediately drowned into this tragic drama where a young dancer must make many sacrifices to hold on to his dreams. When the young dancer finally gets a surprise on stage towards the end of the movie, I just began to cry. This was one of the most magic moments I have ever seen in a movie and I am not a very sentimental person. Someone that won't be touched by the intensity of emotions in this movie must have a heart of ice and stone and someone that is rather emotional might be touched all along the movie. Knowing that this movie was inspired by a true story underlines the intensity of it and shows us that the best stories are often written by life and fate.

This movie goes straight to the top ten movies I have seen in my life and I have seen many movies and big classics. This movie is about romance, family, freedom, faith, cultures and dreams and comparable to the great Shawshank Redemption that broke all the records on this site. Needless to say that I slightly prefer Mao's last dancer to it and I hope that this underrated movie might attract your interest and get more popular one day. Everyone that liked Shawshank Redemption must watch this flick and won't be disappointed. This is easily the best movie of the year 2009.
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Great movie and great performance.
monika-993-3567315 March 2011
Absolutely a movie worth seeing. I rented it out knowing just a little bit about it but not knowing that the movie is based on an autobiography of the main character. Great movie and great performance. One of the few movies I will never forget. It is hard to even imagine the hardship Li Cunxin had to go through for a person who was not born in the communist country especially communist China. It makes you think how many things every day we take for granted. Our freedom, the reality of seeing your family every day and at the same time making your dreams come true. I will definitely want to see this movie again some time, it is now on my favourite movies' list.
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Dancing to freedom
jotix10015 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
China's cultural revolution had a devastating effect on the way certain works of art were perceived by the people on top. Anything that had to do with the West, was deemed not proper and therefore, not fit for the masses. Ballet, a classical dance expression, became a vehicle for propaganda, as the higher ups wanted the works presented in a revolutionary manner, in tone and content.

A young man, Li Cunxin, showed an innate talent for ballet. Coming from a poor family, he had almost no chances to pursue a career as a dancer, let alone to have been singled out to go to America to study for a limited period with the Houston Ballet, under Ben Stevenson's artistic direction, gave him an opportunity, first to study, and then, to shine as a gifted soloist that conquered the hearts of whoever saw him dance.

Li Cunxin got caught in between his loyalty to his birth country and what he wanted to accomplish as an artist with a great gift to give the audiences that flocked to watch him perform. After making his decision, Li lived to experience his dream, not without sacrificing his desire to be in both places, but was not allowed to be.

An inspirational film by Bruce Beresford, the Australian director that has had a string of hits in America. Based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin, and adapted by Jan Sardi, this production gets a great look from its creators, who clearly that plays with the viewer's emotions as it unfolds on the screen. There have been other great ballet films, but "Mao's Last Dancer" resonates with audiences thanks to Mr. Beresford's intelligent take on the dancing world.

Chi Cao plays the title role as an adult. His dancing impresses because it almost appears to be effortless. Bruce Greenwood playing Mr. Stevenson is one of his best roles in the cinema. Joan Chen, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull, Camilla Vergotis, and the rest of the supporting cast do a good job for Mr. Beresford, in a film that shows the indestructible will of a man that wanted to bring joy through his dancing. Peter James photographs the production in all its splendor as different ballet pieces are performed.
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Pirouettes of the Heart
griffolyon1218 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Communism vs. Democracy, interesting that a movie about ballet can present this issue in such a clear light. I guess one could say art always mirrors society. Mao's Last Dancer never really chooses sides, it's more about the freedom of the heart, the tolls and the triumphs associated with it.

The movie tells the true life story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin. Cunxin was born in Communist China to peasants, where at a young age he was handpicked by government officials to attend the Beijing Art Academy to learn dance. There he became a star and got the opportunity to study for three months in Houston, TX, problem is, once coming to America, Cunxin finally learns to "fly" and does not wish to return to Communist China.

The movie was competently directed by Driving Miss Daisy director, Bruce Beresford, though I feel some of the dance sequences could have been suited better, not filming them as if a spectator and rather as the dancer themselves. Never do you get the rush of exhilaration, or the stimulation of dance through the visuals, that while doesn't deter the emotional impact, it could have added more; though many of the dances showcased, symbolically link to the story. The whole relationship between Cunxin's future wife Mary is never really explained through dialogue like the relationship between Cunxin and his first wife, Liz (Cunxin's marriage of convenience to stay in the States after getting defected from his home country). Unlike the relationship with Liz, the relationship with Mary is all done through dance, and dare I say it the way the dancers perform their dances, is sensual.

The beginning jumps around from flashback to modern day, from Li's childhood in China, to his time in Houston, and it is a touch jarring. No character is ever given a proper introduction, they're just thrown in there, which works more as a detriment than it helps. Regardless, once Li starts training ballet at the Beijing Arts Academy, the movie really finds its groove and excels from there on out. Professional ballet dancer Chi Cao plays the role of Li Cunxin well, but he is still a better dancer than actor, the real stand out being B-list actor Bruce Greenwood, who plays the artistic director of the Houston Ballet, selfishly wanting the best talent, unless that talent reflects poorly upon him.

Arching over the entire movie is Li's relationship with his parents and how Li cannot see or contact his parents after being defected. Ultimately, Beresford makes you feel Li's yearning to return to his home country and see his family again that you actually soar alongside Li as he dances with Mary when they are finally allowed to return to his home village in China. Mao's Last Dancer is cinema at its finest, it transports you to another place and time, and even through a rocky start and maybe a too classical visual style, the movie manages to touch the heart and uplift the soul.

I give Mao's Last Dancer an 9 out of 10!
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Heartfelt and enchanting
macktan8942 October 2010
This film surprised me in a couple of ways, the first being an unbiased look into China during the peak of its Cultural Revolution--the Mao Era. Americans often view the Chinese as being oppressed victims during this time, but most of the Chinese were in fact committed to their leadership. Earnest and hardworking, many Chinese families believed socialism was a goal that would benefit the many and opposed the individualistic capitalism of the West. In a closed society, Mao was what was known and Beresford respects that period and presents it quite objectively. Western viewers will see these scenes in the schools as more indoctrination than teaching, but the contrast of the two worlds, that of the U.S. and China, are quite fascinating.

And of course we all know that the Chinese don't fool around when it comes to training and learning. Children are chosen quite young to train for the arts or athletics, taken from their families and put in schools for years to learn their craft. We see the results at the Olympics, for example, where the Chinese are always formidable competitors. The govt selected Li as a child to train for ballet, took him from his family and put him in a Bejing school where he danced and trained daily--stretching, jumping, lifting, working out -- until one day he was noticed by a Houston choreographer and invited to study for a couple of months in Texas.

Li's choice to remain in the UlS. isn't deeply examined in the film--it must have been agonizing to resist Chinese pressure knowing that his parents and siblings might suffer as a result of his actions. But we can forgive the shallowness for the beauty of the dance while we watch the actor playing Li move so impossibly on stage.

I wish Beresford had devoted more time to Li's evolution as a dancer and person rather than focused so much on the political and social intrigue, which I would have found more captivating. Still, it's a fine film and of course I cried toward the end. If you love the arts and dance, you'll love this film. Robert Altman's The Company focuses more on dance than love, which makes it for me a superior film. But Mao's Last Dancer is definitely glorious.
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Sometimes clichés are true
pigeonca2 December 2012
Yes, the plot is predictable and Li's reactions to America perhaps excessively awestruck, but this is probably the best ballet film since "The Red Shoes."

In most dance films the director abandons the totality of the performances by inserting closeups of faces and feet, whereas Beresford knows when to just leave things alone. The edits only happen when another point of view is necessary and thus are never gratuitous. Restraint in art is always admirable.

I was also amazed by the actors, many of them amateurs, and by the scope of the production. Maoist China appeared authentic to me, having seen many documentary films about the cultural revolution and life during that period. And Beresfords depiction of 1980s Houston reflected the era quite accurately, even if - as some comments here detect - some of the street scenes were clearly shot in Australia. So what!

For me and my family, "Mao's Last Dancer" is one of the best films we've seen this year.
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Moving and well made
phd_travel15 August 2010
This is a well made entertaining and moving story about ballet and politics of the cultural revolution in China. For those interested in either it is captivating. You don't have to be a ballet fan to appreciate this.

The screenplay is good with good pace and witty dialog. The story is moving without being sentimental or over-dramatic. It has good doses of unexpected humor without being corny. The reunion with his parents on stage is very moving if a bit contrived. The ballet scenes are exciting to watch and meaningfully placed in the story. The defection is tense.

The lead actor Cao Chi is highly competent as an actor in addition to being a good dancer. For a dancer he can act pretty well. Joan Chen does an amazing job as a peasant - she really is versatile.

The non Chinese supporting cast is good. Bruce Greenwood does a good accent and manner as the artistic director. Kyle McLachlan is amusing as the lawyer who helps him. Amanda Schull from Center Stage doesn't dance much but is quite sweet as the love interest.

Do watch this.
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Doesn't capture spirit of the book
Grand Wizard28 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Paint by numbers formulaic movie for the masses, Mao's Last Dancer fails to capture the poignancy and spirit of the book.

Pointlessly swapping between the US and China story lines, as well as plenty of inaccuracies from the book, the movies fails to deliver.

Characters are not developed in depth, many key moments from the book are not included. The intimacy and tightness with his family and his brothers, the wonder and awe of the trip to US, the conflict between capitalist west and communist east, the harshness of the communist regime, the intimacy with his fellow students at the Beijing dance academy etc are not explored. Overall, a disappointment.

If you read the book, don't bother seeing the movie.
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Art and Freedom
gradyharp7 May 2011
MAO'S LAST DANCER is a gem of a film that proves that true stories of the travails of artists who must have freedom to express make excellent stories. And in this case the story is true. Adapted from the autobiography by the same name by Li Cunxin and adapted for the screen by Jan Sardi and directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Bride of the Wind, Breaker Morant, Double Jeopardy, etc), this story gradually unfolds in both China and America and is in both Chinese and English.

In the author's own words, 'In a small, desperately poor village in northeast China, a peasant boy sits at his rickety old school desk, interested more in the birds outside than in Chairman Mao's Red Book and the grand words it contains. But that day, some strangers come to his school - Madame Mao's cultural delegates. They are looking for young peasants to mold into faithful guards of Chairman Mao's great vision for China." "The boy watches as one of his classmates is chosen and led away. His teacher hesitates. Will she or won't she? She very nearly doesn't. But at the last moment, she taps the official on the shoulder and points to the small boy. "What about that one?" she says." This is the true story of how that one moment in time, by the thinnest thread of chance, changed the course of a small boy's life in ways beyond description. One day he would dance with some of the greatest ballet companies of the world. One day he would be a friend to a president and first lady, movie stars, and some of the most influential people in America. One day he would himself become a star: Mao's last dancer and the darling of the West.'

The film opens when Li Cunxin (Chi Cao, who joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1995 and was promoted to Principal in 2002.Trained at the Beijing Dance Academy and the Royal Ballet School.His parents were two of Cunxin Li's former teachers at the Beijing Dance Academy. Li wanted Cao to portray him) is only a peasant boy of 11 (played at that stage by Wen Bin Huang) and proceeds to show us the above described aspects of his life, as a teenager (played by Chengwu Guo) during his training in Beijing, and finally in his visit and eventual defection to America in 1979 - 81. Representing the American aspect of the story is the kind generosity of Houston Ballet choreographer Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) and dancers and members of the support teams for the ballet. Once in America Li discovers his true talent in classical ballet and wants to remain in America, but the Chinese consulate refuses to let him remain in America, even though Li has met and fallen in love and married. Li is torn - between his love for the family he might never see again (Joan Chen is remarkable as his mother), his love for his wife, and his need to remain where he can polish his gifts as a classical ballet dancer. The well publicized hostage situation in 1981 is included in the film as is the gradual transition of the Chinese growth after the death of Chairman Mao. The ending is a bit saccharine, but by the ending the audience is so enraptured with the story that it all works well.

Grady Harp
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