Blog Directory CineVerse: From red to red, white and blue

From red to red, white and blue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A good "fish-out-of-water" story, when told well, can be satisfying to movie watchers. "Mao's Last Dancer" is that kind of tale, told from the perspective of a Chinese dancer-turned-dissident who discovers the wonders and possibilities of America while never forgetting his homeland and the family he left behind. Here's a recap of our group discussion of this film last night at CineVerse (to hear the full recorded discussion, click here):

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTRIGUING, REFRESHING, OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT “MAO’S LAST DANCER”?

  • You don’t have to be a ballet or dance enthusiast to enjoy or appreciate this movie. The story themes and various genre elements—including action, music, romance, and political thriller—are compelling enough to appeal to all kinds of viewers. 
  • The film isn’t necessarily centered on politics, and it doesn’t try to preach, such as a movie like “Rocky IV” does (consider that film’s ending, where Rocky tells the Russian sports spectators and Soviet leaders in attendance, “if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” 
  • There are a lot of flashbacks employed here; instead of following a linear narrative, from childhood through modern day, the filmmakers bounce around a lot, perhaps suggesting that Li is reflective and deeply contemplative of his past. 
  • It’s likely many viewers didn’t see the failure of Li’s first marriage coming, or the surprise that he later marries the new female dancer he’s suddenly paired with toward the end of the film. When that new dancer is first revealed to Li, by his teary-eyed former dancer (Mary) who’s been replaced, the expectation is that, perhaps, this new dancer will serve as a late act villain and present an intriguing subplot. But that doesn’t happen. 
SOME CRITICS CONTEND THAT “MAO’S LAST DANCER” USES ASIAN AND IDEOLOGICAL STEREOTYPES THAT ARE CLICHED. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE?
  • Ella Taylor from NPR wrote: “I wish that Beresford had not fallen into the familiar trap of dividing Chinese characters into two roles: brutal, ideology-spouting apparatchiki; or parable-spouting, salt-of-the-earth proletarians, the better to show off by contrast the open society of the West.” 
  • Cinema Autopsy blogger Thomas Caldwell wrote: “The representation of ideology in Mao’s Last Dancer is incredibly shallow and crude. The exploration of racial and cultural differences are also very clich├ęd and reducing Li’s early dialogue to pigeon-English is simply embarrassing.” 
  • One could argue that these approaches used in the film were necessary to tell this kind of story, where you have to contrast the politics and culture of the East versus the West and depict Li’s struggles and challenges—including language barriers and political pressure felt—in order to better sympathize and understand his situation. 
THEMES AT WORK IN THIS FILM:
  • Culture clash—the movie contrasts Li’s repressive native land, China, with the land of plenty that he experiences, America. 
  • Commitment—Li demonstrates bravery in choosing to defect, and must remain determined and focused in his goal of becoming a great dancer. 
  • Transition—we see many shifts, evolutions and conversions as the movie progresses, including the transition from boyhood to manhood and maturity, from East to West, from repression to artistic expression, from rags to riches, from unimportant to renowned, from single to couple, etc. 
  • Fables and parables—like the story of the frog and toad, and the tale of the archer 
  • A fish out of water, or stranger in a strange land 
  • Art as an expression of freedom. While Li performs ballet in his native China, he isn’t able to perfect his craft and dance the way he wants to on his terms until he comes to America, a land of democracy and independence. 
  • Art knows no boundaries. Consider the different nationalities present in this film and its making; you have a multicultural love story, and the movie was shot by an Australian filmmaker on location in Australia, China, and Texas. 
MOVIES SIMILAR TO “MAO’S LAST DANCER”:
  • White Nights 
  • Moscow on the Hudson 
  • Center Stage 
  • The Last Emperor 
  • The Turning Point 
OTHER PICTURES DIRECTED BY BRUCE BERESFORD:
  • Driving Miss Daisy 
  • Tender Mercies 
  • Breaker Morant 
  • Crimes of the Heart 
  • Mister Johnson 
  • Black Robe

  © Blogger template Cumulus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP