Thursday 24 Jul

Escape from Tomorrow

With Escape from Tomorrow, one fears the story behind the movie would loom larger than the movie itself. Luckily, that is not the case. After all, it opens with a decapitation on Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster.
05/06/2014 | Comments 0


William Friedkin spends a lot of time in his 2013 memoir discussing why Sorcerer didn't click with critics and audiences even though he believes it to be better than his previous film, The Exorcist. Now that Warner Home Video has reissued Sorcerer on Blu-ray, we can see what Friedkin's fuss is all about.
04/23/2014 | Comments 0

Broadchurch: The Complete First Season

Welcome to the coastal resort of Broadchurch, population … oh, who can keep track, what will all the corpses? Yes, Broadchurch is yet another British television procedural involving the search for a murderer in a quaint little town, just like the limited series The Fall and Top of the Lake.
04/23/2014 | Comments 0

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Essentially part five in the ridiculously profitable horror franchise, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones continues the found-footage conceit of the other films. The difference is instead of the scares taking place in rich white suburbia, they do so in a junky apartment complex on a largely Latino side of Oxnard, Calif.
04/23/2014 | Comments 0

Holy Ghost People

Holy Ghost People examines two sisters whose bond is torn — but by what? After her sibling has been missing for more than a year, Charlotte (Emma Greenwell, TV's Shameless) intends to find out.
04/15/2014 | Comments 0
Home · Articles · Movies · Drama · Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer

None September 30th, 2010

Back in the '80s, communism was the enemy, and almost any movie that had to do with the Soviet Union portrayed communist governments as brutal, collectivist regimes that were the evil antithesis to the freedom-loving, individualist United States.

Movies like "Moscow on the Hudson," "White Nights" and "Red Heat" benefited from exaggerating the ideological culture shock and friction between communists and capitalists, but then showed us that we're all human beings, dang it, and we can all get along.

For some reason, however, movie studios didn't care much about China back then. Maybe it's because they didn't have much money until they started making stuff for Walmart.

Anyway, that ancient injustice has been corrected by "Mao's Last Dancer," the story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin (newcomer Chi Cao). Unfortunately, the ham-handed, often melodramatic direction distorts a true story, turning it into an awkward, "feel-good" narrative in which Americans are kindhearted givers, and most Chinese are heartless, conformist bastards. 

Opening Friday, it begins in 1982, as Cunxin arrives in Houston to dance at the ballet there and stay with ballet director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood, "Dinner for Schmucks"), who arranged for Li's visit. Then we time-travel back to 1972 to watch as young Li is taken from his little rural village to be trained in ballet for the glory of Mao's party.

Li moves to the big city, where he's a weak little kid. But through the magic of montage, he discovers his inner strength and goes from being a runt to the Baryshnikov of Beijing.

Back in 1982, Li becomes acclimated to Texas, learns to dance in discos, and finds out how much he likes petting lady dancers. He gets a girlfriend in Liz (Amanda Schull, "Center Stage") and becomes the toast of the Houston arts scene.

When it comes time to go back home, Li marries Liz, causing a low-grade international incident. He manages to stay in America, but finds that he feels really bad about leaving his family behind.

Everything turns out OK in the end, but one gets the impression that director Bruce Beresford ("Double Jeopardy") took a lot of creative license to provide a satisfying plot arc. One also gets the impression that the story was kind of thin, so he padded it out with lengthy ballet scenes that don't advance/serve the plot. To make them seem significant, Li sometimes dances in slow motion, and sometimes with "Matrix"-esque tracer effects, just to make it look super-awesome.

It's kind of sad, because the early part of the film is pretty interesting. But later, it skims over other interesting stuff, like Li's professional and marriage difficulties, presumably to avoid making him look like an actual, flawed human being.

A lot of what we do get is rendered hilarious by dramatic, over-the-top "acting," leaving the whole second half feeling like a half-assed double battement fondu. "”Mike Robertson
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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