Mao's Last Dancer
The elegant lines of Chi Cao (as Li Cuxin) in
Mao's Last Dancer
It's a shame that
Mao's Last Dancer has been barely seen outside Australia. Only
garnering a release in Germany (oddly) and appearing at a few film
festivals, this DVD may be the first chance many have had to see Bruce
Beresfordís latest, a broad biopic of ballet-dancer extrodinarre Li
Aside from his dancing exploits, Cuxin became well known because of his
21 hour long detention at the Houston Chinese Consulate in 1981. An
exchange student reaching the end of his term, Li had fallen for his
adopted capitalist home (not to mention, his pretty girlfriend) and
wished to stay. The communist Chinese authorities did not approve.
His story, from a difficult childhood in 1960s China, to his training at
the gruelling Beijing Dance Academy, to his subsequent stay in the
United States, is related in his autobiography which became the basis
for Jan Sardiís (Shine) screenplay.
Dramatic and uplifting, it is an enjoyable but conventional
rags-to-riches tale. Beresford is not afraid to tug at the heartstrings
or enunciate the blatant themes of race, culture and ambition. But itís
also weak, without the conviction of thoroughly depicting the hardships
enforced on him as a child.
That would perhaps have been a better film. As it is the melodrama of
Maoís Last Dancer is painted in broad strokes with touching
performances from Joan Chen as Liís mother Niang, and company director
Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek), a soft fatherly
figure and champion of his biggest star. Everyone else, including Chi
Cao as Li are just serviceable, though his dual-language role and superb
dancing ability impresses.
Cinematography Peter James gives the Chinese scenes a grimy, grainy
quality which contrasts well to the colourful dance sequences. The
filmís biggest weakness is the superficial love story between our hero
and attractive dancer Elizabeth Mackey (Amanda Schull), which seems to
exist solely to allow Li to play marriage card when the communist
officials come knocking.