Cathy and David At the Movies: Mao's Last Dancer

Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) with his girlfriend Liz (Amanda Schull) contemplating his return to Communist China

Li Cunxin (Chi Cao) with his girlfriend Liz (Amanda Schull) contemplating his return to Communist China

Cathy: Mao’s Last Dancer is a truly beautiful film. It tells the story Li Cunxin’s remarkable rise to fame as a dancer and is based on his autobiography of the same name. Selected from his village in rural China at the age of 11, Li leaves his much loved family and is sent to Beijing to train as a ballet dancer. He is later selected to go to the USA on a Cultural exchange with the Houston Ballet and eventually defects.

David: Bruce Beresford has decided to make a film which emphasises contrasts: the first half of the film juxtaposes Communist China with Capitalist America, the poverty of Li Cunxin’s large family with the wealth of Ben Stevenson (director of the Houston Ballet), the restrictions of Mao’s People’s Revolution with the freedom of the free-thinking West. Although this theme is abandoned for a while during the second half the film, it returns with a vengeance in the final scene. Certainly educational for Maddy and Mia who saw it with us.

Cathy: It is great to see such a wonderful Australian production. I loved the ballet sequences (and there were lots of them), starring our very own Australian Ballet Company and Sydney Dance Theatre with choreography by Graham Murphy. It was a nice change seeing Australian actors such as Jack Thompson and Penne Hackforth-Jones playing Americans instead of the other way around.

David: Actually, there were quite a few Australian actors in the film, not all as well known as those, such as the dancer who played “middle Li”, Chengwu Guo, who is a dancer with the Australian Ballet, and Camilla Vergotis who plays Li’s wife Mary. But of course this intense Australian interest is because Li and Mary and their three children have lived in Melbourne since 1995. “Adult Li” was played by Chinese born Chi Cao. Like Li, he was trained at the Beijing Dance Academy and is in fact the son of two of Li’s former teachers. All three actors who play Li, including “Little Li” (Huang Wen Bin) are superb.

Cathy: I agree. This is a stirring story of courage, loyalty, determination, and perseverance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am giving it four stars.

David: There are places where the film lacks subtlety, and the emotional triggers are laid on with a trowel, such as the split up scene with Li’s first wife, and the on-stage reunion with his parents. Of course, I cried at these points – as I was supposed to! Nevertheless, I liked it too. Three stars from me.

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