"Mao's Last Dancer"

Before seeing this film, I had seen the trailer and had also read that it won awards at the Toronto Film Festival; besides that, though, I did not know much about it. The movie, however, ended up being a very pleasant surprise.

Li Cunxin (newcomer Chi Cao, as the adult Li) is selected at a very young age to leave his village in rural China in order to train as a ballet dancer in Beijing. Eventually, he is chosen to go to U.S. and be a guest dancer with the Houston Ballet. It is when Li is there that he finally realizes the oppressiveness of the Chinese government, and when his visa expires three months later, he refuses to go home. The Chinese Consulate will not grant him more time in America, however, a decision which Li and his friends and co-performers try to fight.

The movie has incredible ballet scenes, and it turns out that Chi Cao, as Li, is actually a dancer in real life - he joined the Birmingham Ballet in 1995. That would explain why the scenes are so real; at various points, I forgot I was actually watching a movie, and it was almost as if I was enjoying a dance performance live instead. The movie also has a great supporting cast, including Bruce Greenwood ("Dinner for Schmucks") as Ben, the Artistic Director for the Houston Ballet; Kyle MacLachlan (TV's "Desperate Housewives") as Charles, Li's lawyer; and Amanda Schull (TV's "One Tree Hill") as Elizabeth, Li's love interest.

Yes, definitely see this movie. The film shows Li's life in China in flashback sequences, and through these clips we get to see how he became the dancer he is now. Li's world changes forever when he comes to Houston to dance, and we, as the audience, are lucky that we get to experience it with him.

"Mao's Last Dancer" opens Friday, and it will be showing locally at the Maple Art Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

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