Cultures clash in period dance drama. 

Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) brings the memoir of famed Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin to the big screen in Mao’s Last Dancer. At times schmaltzy, Mao’s Last Dancer is nevertheless an enjoyable, if predictably tear-jerking look at one man’s journey from Chinese peasant to a star of the Houston Ballet.

Li begins in the film as an 11-year-old boy in rural China. When he is fortuitously chosen to attend the Beijing Dance Academy, his life becomes a tool of the state: He is classically trained in ballet but schooled in communist ideology first and foremost. These are some of the most interesting moments of the film, as life under Chairman Mao is a fascinatingly foreign existence. The ballets are transformed into political propaganda to suit Madame Mao, and Li’s training is couched in terms of his duty to the Communist Party.

This all changes, of course, when Li is invited to dance at the Houston Ballet in the United States. Ultimately, he is won over by such superficial and stilted clichés as a pretty American girl and the funloving disco life, but he also relishes a genuine feeling of personal freedom. “I dance better when I’m here,” he claims, just at the point when he is obligated to return to China.

What ensues is a battle to keep Li in the U.S., culminating in the Chinese Embassy holding Li hostage for 21 hours. It makes for compelling cinema and will perhaps be an unwelcome reminder of strained Sino-American relations.

For those of us young enough not to remember Li’s story, I’ll refrain from spoiling the film’s ending. Suffice it to say that Chi Cao does an excellent job as Li, the film’s dance scenes are beautiful (to this untrained eye), and the Chinese-American culture clash (aside from the contrived, childlike portrayal of the Chinese peasants) is interesting. If you’re looking for a film with guaranteed emotion and pretty dance scenes that’s also easy to digest, look no further.

Mao’s Last Dancer Opening Friday, September 24th Ridgeway Four

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Tags:

Mao's Last Dancer
Rated PG · 127 min. · 2010
Official Site: www.maoslastdancermovie.com
Director: Bruce Beresford
Writer: Jan Sardi and Cunxin Li
Producer: Jane Scott
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull, Joan Chen, Alice Parkinson, Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Christopher Kirby and Chi Cao

Trailer


Now Playing

Mao's Last Dancer is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • The Meg

      Jason Statham gets ripped and fights giant sharks. Are you not entertained?
    • Memphis Film Prize 2018

      Ten local films compete for $10,000 in the 2018 Memphis Film Prize

Blogs

Music Blog

Jose Feliciano Plays Unannounced Memphis Gig

Hungry Memphis

Welcome back, Restaurant Iris!

Music Blog

Gillian Welch Wows GPAC

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Alpha

Intermission Impossible

In Praise of "Love and Murder" at Playhouse on the Square

News Blog

MATA Looks to Hire More Trolley Operators

Music Blog

Listen Up: Cruelty of the Heavens

News Blog

VIDEO: SUV Driver Swerves Into Cyclists

Intermission Impossible

Ostranders to Honor Memphis Performers Who Died During 2017-18 Season

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Hannah Sayle

  • Recipe for Success

    Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman on their new cookbook, Collards & Carbonara.
    • Aug 29, 2013
  • Midtown Magnetism

    Babalu fills in another Overton Square spot; Muddy’s to open on Cooper.
    • Aug 22, 2013
  • Open House

    The historic Magevney House will soon reopen to the public.
    • Aug 22, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Fifty Shades Darker

    America gets the boundary pushing lifestyle porn it deserves
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • Ready Player One

    Spielberg mines the past and present in this virtual adventure
    • Apr 6, 2018
  • I Am Not Your Negro

    Raoul Peck’s documentary brings James Baldwin’s words to an America that needs to listen.
    • Feb 24, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation