Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mao's Last Dancer

Bruce Beresford, 2009 (8.6*)
Based on the autobiography of Li Cunxin, a dancer who was plucked from his mountain village in China at age 11 by members of the cultural revolution, and trained in classical ballet from that point on. Criticized for being weak, he added extra weights to his legs and spent many hours developing strength to go with his natural agility and long-limbed grace. He is played here by actor Chi Cao.

In 1979, he is sent to the Houston Ballet in a cultural exchange with the U.S. He often struggles with his conscience, on doing what he feels is right, or acting like a good diplomat for the Communist ideal in China. Eventually he falls in love with a dancer in Texas, and this then becomes his biggest personal challenge.

This could have been a movie of the week but for the touch of veteran director Beresford, director of best picture winner Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and the military trial film Breaker Morant (1980). The dance sequences are wonderfully shot, some of the best in cinema. For me, these carry the film, though for others it may drag it down. I think for a dancer, his story can well be told through his dancing, and for me it seems natural here, not strained like in many musicals.

I was genuinely moved by this film in several places. I've read online posts by other Chinese immigrants who say it's a very accurate portrayal of someone from that part of China, Qingdao I believe. For lovers of dance films, this one's almost up there with The Red Shoes.

Winner of 6 awards and 14 nominations


Anonymous,  November 19, 2011 at 7:25 AM  

This is a fantastic movie! Amust see. One of my 10 films I ever saw.

José Sinclair November 19, 2011 at 11:04 AM  

This is certainly one of the top dance films ever made. I can only think of Red Shoes and Black Swan being in its league, so that's saying something.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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