Sunday, September 12, 2010


Mao’s Last Dancer is one of those based-on-a-true-story films that take the complexities and drama of real life incidents and proceeds to whittle them down into a manageable middling middlebrow lump. Bruce Beresford directs from a script by Jan Sardi that turns the interesting story of a Chinese ballet dancer who defects while on a 1981 trip to America into a thoroughly bland movie. Chi Cao, a dancer in his film debut, is quite good as Li Cunxin, the dancer in question, but he’s stuck in a movie that doesn’t know how to help modulate performance or engage in any form of subtlety. The supporting cast that includes the likes of Bruce Greenwood and Kyle MacLachlan is similarly mishandled by the filmmaking. This is a movie that’s out to hammer home every emotion with capital letters and copious clunky dialogue. The true story is interesting enough to shock the movie to life for a few moments at a time, but I would recommend Cunxin’s memoir if that’s what you’re interested in. Beresford has made good movies before, with Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy, among others, on his résumé, but this particular film is never anything more than watchable, and is too often just simple and sedate.

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