Mao’s Last Dancer

This site was originally created to promote the movie, the 2010 Australian film called: Mao’s Last Dancer.  

TOMATOMETER  Critics 55% | Audience 77%

"Mao's Last Dancer" is the inspiring true story of Li Cunxin and his extraordinary journey from a poor upbringing in rural China to international stardom as a world-class ballet dancer. Based on the best selling autobiography, the film weaves a moving tale about the quest for freedom and the courage it takes to live your own life. It compellingly captures the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs, as well as the intoxicating effects of first love and celebrity amid the pain of exile.

Rating: PG (for a brief violent image, some sensuality, language and incidental smoking)
Genre: Art House & International , Drama , Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By: Bruce Beresford
Written By: Jan Sardi , Li Cunxin
In Theaters: Aug 20, 2010 wide
On DVD: May 3, 2011
Runtime: 117 minutes


Chi Cao - Li - as an adult
Bruce Greenwood - Ben Stevenson
Penne Hackforth-Jones - Cynthia Dodds
Christopher Kirby - Mason (as Chris Kirby)
Suzie Steen - Betty Lou
Madeleine Eastoe - Lori
Aden Young - Dilworth
Wen Bin Huang - Li - as a child
Shu Guang Liang - Jing Tring - 8 yrs
Ye Wang - Cunfar - 14 yrs
Neng Neng Zhang - Gong Mei
Wan Shi Xu - Yu
Shao Wei Yi - Yang Ping
Hui Cong Zhan - Teacher Song
Ji Feng Sun - Headmaster



Rotten Tomatoes' CRITIC REVIEWS



September 21, 2010
Jonathan F. Richards

Bruce Beresford's biopic of Li Cunxin, the Chinese ballet dancer who defected while on a student visa in Houston in 1981, is sometimes the movie equivalent of Oscar Meyer cold cuts. But the dancing is pure caviar.


August 27, 2010
Peter Rainer<
Christian Science Monitor

Based on the 2003 autobiography by Chinese ballet star Li Cunxin, whose defection to the West in 1981 made international headlines, “Mao’s Last Dancer” is at its best when Chi Cao, a world-class dancer in his own right, is spinning in the air as the adult Li.

Too often, though, the film plods along on the ground. Li’s transformation from teenage graduate of Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy to cultural exchange student and, finally, star of the Houston Ballet is conventionally dramatized – i.e., predictable.

The direction by the normally excellent Bruce Beresford is surprisingly perfunctory but at least he doesn’t make the usual mistake of chopping the dance sequences into shards of leaping limbs. He presents the dancers’ bodies in full.


September 3, 2010
Joe Williams
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Ballet moves help lift 'Mao's Last Dancer'. You know you're watching a period piece when a visitor from China is awed by American skyscrapers and consumer goods. But in the 1970s, the communist giant was cloistered behind the Great Wall, and only a privileged few Chinese were allowed to visit the West and compare it with the propaganda warnings about a lawless jungle.

One of those visitors was ballet prodigy Li Cunxin, whose autobiography is the basis of "Mao's Last Dancer." Part performance showcase and part political soap opera, it's an up-and-down experience, but the superb dancing is worth the turgid drama.

In the early '70s, Chairman Mao Zedong's wife hatches a plan to combine classical Russian ballet with Red Army sloganeering. Because of his flexible body type, 11-year-old Li is plucked from a Chinese village and sent to a ballet training academy in Beijing. Three actors portray the clumsy-but-limber Li in the years of his arduous training, when he is pulled between a teacher who's inspired by Mao and another who's inspired by bootleg videos of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

After Mao dies and the gates of the nation creak open, the academy is visited by a delegation from the Houston Ballet, led by flamboyant, fur-coated Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood). As a reward for his perseverance, if not his political purity, 18-year-old Li (Cao Chi) is permitted to study in America.

Australian director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy") handles the culture-clash aspects of the story with a surprising lack of subtlety. This America consists of glittering shopping malls and cowboy-hatted backslappers.

When the grim bureaucrats at the Chinese Embassy order Li to return home, he insists he'd rather marry a struggling ballerina named Elizabeth (Amanda Schull), which sparks an international incident.

Although Li dances in Houston for the next 16 years, that period is compressed into little more than a puzzling fight over Elizabeth's housekeeping, an abrupt second marriage and a heart-tugging public reunion with estranged loved ones. It's as simplified a fairy tale as "Swan Lake," yet because it elevates a Chinese character to the world stage, "Mao's Last Dancer" mimics the next step in our cultural evolution.


August 26, 2010
Manuel Mendoza
Dallas Morning News

A Chinese boy is plucked from abject poverty to serve his country but winds up defecting to the United States and becoming a star - Mao's Last Dancer has the stuff of hit film biographies.

Biopics can be choppy, jumping from one life episode to another without much thematic connection. By building the film around ballet dancer Li Cunxin's first two years in Houston, leading up to his costly decision in 1981 to stay in the U.S., director Bruce Beresford taps the dramatic pull of the story.

In intermittent flashbacks, Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant) parallels the Houston scenes with Li's upbringing in rural China. The Australian director starkly contrasts the affluence and openness of America with the economic struggles and repression of Chinese communism without turning Mao's into a political treatise.

Already a smash in Australia, where the former dancer now lives and works as an investment banker, the film is based on his best-selling 2003 autobiography of the same name.

When the 11-year-old Li is chosen to study at Beijing Dance Academy by party officials visiting his school, you know you're about to witness a transformation of fortunes. He turns out to be a good choice, though his Chinese minders wouldn't necessarily agree.

He's ambitious, talented and in the right place at the right time, becoming one of the first student-artists in an exchange program following the opening of relations between China and the U.S. in the 1970s. Two years later, he doesn't want to leave the Houston Ballet and go home. The standoff at the Chinese consulate is the story's linchpin, and Beresford carries off the dramatic tension without going over the top.

Ballet dancer Chi Cao does a great job of capturing both Li's chops on the stage and his sincerity and culture shock in the face of American opulence.

Bruce Greenwood as Houston Ballet director Ben Stevenson, now at the helm of Dallas-Fort Worth's Texas Ballet Theater, and Kyle MacLachlan as lawyer Charles Foster are equally winning.

Director: Bruce Beresford. Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen, Amanda Schull and Chi Cao. 117 minutes. PG (brief violent image, some sensuality, language and incidental smoking)


August 20, 2010
By Post Staff Report

A shaky lead performance is the least of the problems with Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer,” which recounts the true story of Chinese ballet star Li Cunxin’s defection to the US in the schmaltziest TV-movie terms imaginable.

Sent to Houston as a cultural exchange student in 1981, Li becomes such a performing sensation that the Chinese government orders him home — and an international incident is avoided only through the (off-screen) intercession of then Vice President George Bush.


Chinese-born dancer Chi Cao is fine when performing onstage, but he’s a rather wooden actor, especially in the unconvincing love scenes with the Australian woman who becomes his wife.

The ubiquitous Bruce Greenwood — Paul Rudd’s boss in “Dinner for Schmucks” — dominates the flick as the dance director who mentors (and appears to have a major crush on) Li. There are nice cameos by Joan Chen and Kyle MacLachlan as Li’s mother and lawyer, respectively.



Arizona S
****½ March 2, 2016

great, heart warming story...nice movie the whole family can watch..should watch. God Bless America


Mark W
****½ December 12, 2015

Viewers need some sound historical knowledge of China to fully appreciate this film.


Joel A
***½ January 10, 2014

The inspiring story of a young ballet dancer getting a dream opportunity in America & his acceleration to success in ballet over there.

Filled with simple scenes I can see why the critics may bash but I liked the film it flows well & easy.

The final scene where he connects with his parents after many years after a knockout performance is very touching...


Jennifer M
**½ June 6, 2011
Typical story line where an Asian meets and falls in love with an American. I give it an extra star because of the scene where Li danced for his parents. It was very moving.


Oceanaeco Q
October 23, 2010

people all around me are about 60-80 years old when I am watching this...OMG...but this is such a good movie.


Susan d
***** August 16, 2013

Eye candy alert! Chi Cao will have your heart racing in a flash :-) This is one of the most gorgeous films I have seen this year. Completely loved it. Joan Chen is as fantastic as ever.


***** January 1, 2014

Absolutely wonderful


August 3, 2013

"Mao's Last Dancer" follows every possible Hollywood formula that it eventually gets tiring. The story is about a ballet dancer who grew up on a small farm in communist China and was chosen to be trained as a ballet dancer. When he grows up, he is sent to the United States for a short amount of time. There, he falls in love and refuses to leave. I just wish the story did not overload on cheesiness and melodrama as if it needed it to survive. Mao's life in communist China was fairly bias free but swayed to become one-sided sometimes. I enjoyed seeing someone strive for perfection and do anything to achieve it. That part is truly inspiring and makes Mao a very likable character. After that, it was all once sided and typical Hollywood melodrama. I never fell for the relationship between Mao and the forgettable ballet dancer. The dance scenes are however sure to entertain since they were truly miraculous. The differences between the US and China are clearly highlighted and sometimes funny. The acting was decent, but it was nothing exceptional nor horrible. Some scenes are very powerful like the one where Mao is imprisoned in the Chinese Embassy while his lawyer is held down by security. The direction by Beresford is what is so wrong for the film which develops the hints of cheesiness found in the script."Mao's Last Dancer" is every bit as inspiring as it is cheesy and bland yet it is filled with some terrific dance routines.


Monique Y
*** August 21, 2010

Moving, challenging, and well performed true story inspired movie that left me thinking that values and beauty are in the eye of the beholder... and culture!


***½ June 27, 2013

Perhaps this film was a bit culturally insensitive, but I still really enjoyed it. And can we please talk about how handsome Chi Cao (Li) is?


Clinton D
May 16, 2013

Wanna see a bad movie? I mean a really bad movie? Where they have old Australian actors pretending to be American and they try to make Sydney pass for Houston? Well watch this one.


Susan R
May 14, 2013

fantastic beautiful dancing ! Loved it.


Gareth J
****½ March 30, 2013

I'm getting soft, maybe I'm a comrade and have been brainwashed but loved this.