How do you distil the journey of a life that takes place over 25 years into a film that's well under two hours?
Mao's Last Dancer is a biopic story of Li Cunxin's journey and his escape from peasant boy in Mao's Cultural Revolution to become a world famous ballet dancer. Under Mao's communist regime Li 's chosen to become a student at the Beijing dance academy. In 1979, Li's picked in a cultural exchange by Houston Ballet's director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) to train with them in Texas. In the US, he soon begins to find his niche in the ballet company. He falls for an aspiring dancer Liz (Amanda Schull) and decides to fight for his new-found freedom.
I was told that the film was reduced from 680,000 words to 160,000 words, which could be a paintufl process for the author himself.
Nevertheless, Mao's last Dancer is beautifully shot, particularly in it's dance sequences. Beresford uses a unique blend of live action and slow motion capture shots to fully encapsulate the performances. The ballet scenes are so well choreographed that they add a level of authenticity to the film.
Inasmuch as the dialogue is delivered less convincingly than the pirouettes, it's rather easier to forgive overly earnest acting than it would've been to ignore clumsy dancing, particularly if you fancy going to the cinema to see the ballet.
Those that have read the book may be a little reluctant to see the film, in fear that it will ruin their experience of the book. Maybe yes, maybe not. But I still believe that the film still strikes a chord. There's something deep within Li that makes his story quite compelling...