Word of mouth grows for 'Mao's Last Dancer'


I was at the bridge club for my weekly game and, unusually, the main subject of conversation was a film. The session I attend is 80% female and 20% male. The film in question was Mao’s Last Dancer, and there was almost universal praise from my card-playing compatriots for the film. Several had gone more than once—the first time with friends, and the second time with their husband or another friend. This was only a small group, but it was indicative of widespread positive word of mouth for the film.

A few days later, I was at the local swimming pool, and two friends there were also talking about the film. Almost everybody, male and female, admitted shedding a tear or two during the picture. As a result, Mao’s Last Dancer has surged to be the third highest-grossing Australian film of the past seven years locally (after Australia and Happy Feet). At the time of writing, the film has passed A$12 million (equivalent to US$120 million box office in the U.S.) and is destined to go higher still. Based on its local success and the international setting of the story, the film is certain to get a release in U.S., U.K., Europe and much of Asia.

Li Cunxin (played by three different Chinese actors at various stages of his life) was discovered in a small Chinese village and chosen by Mao Tse Tung’s talent scouts to be trained as a ballet dancer. Upon achieving fame, he was selected to go on a cultural exchange program in Houston. He defected to the U.S. in 1981 and was represented by lawyer Charles Foster (played by U.S. actor Kyle MacLachlan). This is a very uplifting story, with definite “chick flick” appeal, but also crossover appeal to males. Joel Pearlman, managing director of Roadshow Films, which is releasing the film locally in conjunction with Hopscotch, says, “It’s a feel-good film. You come out of this film feeling better than when you went in. You feel good about life.”

Mao’s Last Dancer was directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) and written by Jan Sardi (Shine, The Notebook). The film is based in Li Cunxin’s biography of the same name. He currently works as a stockbroker in Melbourne.

Mao’s Last Dancer joins Australia, Balibo, Beautiful Kate, Mary & Max and Samson & Delilah among the nominees for Best Film at this year’s Australian Film Institute Awards.

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand new items to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.