Mao’s Last Dancer (2009), a film directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), stars Bruce Greenwood (I, Robot (2004), Star Trek (2009)), Kyle MacLachlan (Desperate Housewives TV Series, Sex and the City TV Series), Joan Chen (The Last Emperor, Lust, Caution ), and Chi Cao as Li Cunxin, in a film based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin, who, at the age of 11, was taken from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates, and taken to Beijing to study ballet.
Li Cunxin (Cao), born in poverty in rural Qingdao, in Communist China. At the age of 11, he was selected to study ballet at the Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy. Then in 1979, after seven years of intense training, he was awarded a Cultural Scholarship to the Houston Ballet. Leaving his family behind, Li is thrust into a new world and is overwhelmed. Armed with only a Chinese American dictionary in hand he soon realizes that outside of Communist China lies opportunity.
Li is constantly reminded of what the regime has instilled in him; that wealth makes men evil. Being exposed to Stevenson’s (Greenwood) home, he asked if he had a big family–due to it’s size. When he was shown to his room, Li could not believe that this was his room. Even when Stevenson purchased Li different clothing to wear, he remarked how his father worked hard–all year–to only make $50 dollars–refused the $500 worth of clothes that was laid out before him and only agreed to wear them if Stevenson would return them to the store.
What I admired most about this film were the complexities of Li’s personal life, and how it conflicted with the principals of his homeland. The film touched on all of his personal relationships–with his mother and father, how they encouraged him to always look beyond their poverty, and make his own successful destiny–his relationship with Teacher Chan, where is encouraged Li to always work hard to achieve the impossible, when he seemed the weakest of all the boys at the Beijing Ballet school; now, this same support and encouragement comes from Stevenson, when Li was called a racial slur, he told Li that it was the light that was within him, that people could see.
The film’s adaptation of Li’s autobiography beautifully chronicles the drama of where two world belief systems collide, aside from the political juggling and legal maneuvering that eventually allowed for Li to remain in the United States, at a tremendous cost. The ballet depicted in the film was a skilfully choreographed immersion, fiery with passion. Engrossing–much like Li’s life depicted in the film, an emotive renewal of life, purpose, and celebration.
For more about Li Cunxin’s bestselling autobiography, please visit his website.