MAO’S LAST DANCER
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
This true story of Li Cunxin, a Chinese ballet dancer in the 1980s who comes to the United States, is told in “Mao’s Last Dancer.” Li starts off life as a peasant boy, but he is soon taken away to train at a prestigious ballet school. When he starts a tour in Houston, he discovers he likes the American way of life but does not want to turn his back on his country or his people. Soon, his story becomes one of legal battles and citizenship.
WHAT I LIKED
I’ll admit that when I first considered watching “Mao’s Last Dancer,” I wasn’t sure I’d like it. After all, it’s a tale of international citizenship fought against the backdrop of ballet. It doesn’t exactly stir my juices, if you get my drift.
But the film is more than that. Like “Black Swan,” which came out this past award season, the film is not about ballet. It’s about a man’s journey. It shows how a person living a sheltered life in China can have his eyes opened up to the western world. But while the movie shows the struggles of the Chinese peasants and the iron fist of the Communist government, it doesn’t make things gratuitous. This is just the life that Li Cunxin lived, for better or for worse.
The story follows Li Cunxin’s life, which can be quite tender at times. The early years in China are beautifully shot and well constructed. It also is a story of determination as the main characters grows and commits his life to his art.
The performances are pretty solid, notably with Kyle McLaughlin as Li’s immigration lawyer and Bruce Greenwood as the head of the Houston Ballet. On the whole, “Mao’s Last Dancer” is a sweeping story that has many ups and downs, with some pretty noticeable changes in tone and pace. And it has an excellent constructed dénouement, which isn’t always seen in true stories and biographical films.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Like any true story, “Mao’s Last Dancer” has some elements that don’t quite flow well. While director Bruce Beresford does a very good job of balancing the film, he still has trouble keeping the character action moving along. And, with so many elements in Li Cunxin’s life, certain parts get pushed back or wrapped up into only a scene or two.
The only feature on the Blu-ray is a mid-length “Making of Mao’s Last Dancer” behind the scenes featurette, which is interesting enough, but the whole of the features could have been better.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
People who like a new angle to the international immigration drama.