Mao’s Last Dancer (Blu-ray)
Based on a true story, MAO’S LAST DANCER follows Li Cunxin, a young boy plucked from a small village in China to go on and do amazing things in the world of ballet. At the young age of 11, Li is chosen by his government to partake in a training program to become a ballet dancer. Though he doesn’t excel at first, through determination and hard work he becomes a huge talent and gets the opportunity to go to America to study for a few months. When in Houston, Texas he meets a fellow dancer, falls in love and defects from his communist country.
I’m a bit of a sucker for true stories, especially if they involve dancing, so it was exciting to watch such an amazing talent on screen. The dancing in this film is absolutely superb. If you enjoy dancing and ballet in particular then this is quite the treat because Chi Cao is one of those performers that is truly mesmerizing to watch. Cao’s movements are fluid and flawless during the numbers in the film and it really looks like he’s flying across the stage. One of the highlights of a film like this (in my mind anyway) would be the training montage. I love a good training montage and MAO’S LAST DANCER delivers in this regard. The audience gets to watch him transform from this unmotivated child to a dedicated professional dancer. It’s actually quite inspiring even though there is a cheesy story from his teacher that helps him on the path. Along with the montage the dancing is once again really fantastic, even non-dance lovers will be in awe after watching the last performance of the film. Unfortunately, the plot amazing dancing can’t save the film from the less than desirable plot.
The story was there and it was going strong, and then the last 30-45 minutes just fell apart. It was almost like they were in a rush to get everything in there and the second half just ended up feeling a little disconnected. For instance, Li was supposed to have defected to stay in America for dance as well as a girl, and not ten minutes later the couple ended up breaking up, and then soon after the film jumps ahead several years and he’s suddenly with someone else and then the movie ends. I actually had to back up the disc to see if I missed a chapter, but nope, it just jumped ahead and left this writer a little confused and disappointed. If you don’t explain everything, I would just as soon you leave it out so I don’t question it later. With that said, the director did a great job telling the basic story and the director of photography made some serious magic in this film. The colors were rich and the whole film felt very soft and surreal like a ballet itself.
Overall I would recommend MAO’S LAST DANCER for those interested in Chinese history and classic ballet. You’re not going to learn a ton, but the dancing is fascinating to watch and Chi Cao is really an awesome performer and really commands attention from the audience. I probably won’t watch this all the way through again, but would have no problem popping it back in for that last dance routine.
Video: A superb transfer with crisp colors and clarity.
Audio: Well utilized especially during the music in the performances, where the surround sound was present.
The Making of Mao’s Last Dancer (19:21): I’m not usually one for “making of” featurettes but this was pretty decent as we got to see several interviews from the cast and crew as well as some stunning behind-the-scenes footage. I would recommend taking the twenty minutes and giving it a watch.
I’ve read that the Canadian release has deleted scenes as well as a still gallery and I wish I knew why the US version didn’t include these things. With all this amazing ballet, you would have thought they could have just stuck a camera on these dancers and gave us a little featurette with some outtakes or something.