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Mao’s Last Dancer

PG for Infrequent Mild Violence and Coarse Language
Film is in English and Mandarin

Reviewed by Matt Gees

Mao’s Last Dancer, based on the autobiography of the same name, follows the journey Li Cunxin a peasant boy chosen to train at the Beijing Ballet who later moves to America and defects.

Set against a variety of backdrops including Communist China under Mao Zedong, Houston Texas in the early 80s and then a return to his homeland in the late 80s, this film takes the audience on an incredible journey.

Featuring a cast of Chinese, American and Australian actors and dancers, this movie combines acting, foreign language and most importantly Ballet into a somewhat rushed journey.

Chi Cao makes his acting debut as the adult Li after spending the last 7 years as principal of the Birmingham Ballet and Chengwu Guo a top graduate of the Beijing dance Academy who plays Li in his teenage years, also makes his acting debut.

Movie buffs will no doubt recognise other familiar faces in the ensemble cast including a special cameo by Aussie veteran Jack Thompson.

Li Cunxin has spent much time in Australia (and now lives here) and the film features members of the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company with the dance sequences choreographed by former Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company Graeme Murphy and long time partner Janet Vernon.

At just under 2 hours long, this movie leaves the viewer slightly confused at times due to the number of years covered and the lack of detail can affect some of the continuity.

Overall though this is a powerful story that tackles communism, love, Chinese/US political relations in the 80s and the passion and artistic expression of ballet.

Mao’s Last Dancer contains some mild sexual references and rare coarse language, but also has a lot of subtitles. Parents can use their own discretion for younger children.

But anyone who is interested in Ballet will enjoy this movie.