Story

Young Li Cunxin (Huang Wen Bin) is chosen from thousands of children across China. He is taken from his family in a rural mountain village and brought to Beijing to study ballet at Madame Mao’s Academy. Unprepared for the harshness and discipline of his new environment, Li struggles to find his place and prove himself. A politically incorrect teacher believes in him and his ability to become something far greater than anything they could imagine. With this teacher’s help, Li (played in his teenage years by Chengwo Guo and as an adult by Chi Cao) begins to find an inner strength that helps him through the harsh environment he daily endures. It will assist him in facing future setbacks and challenges.

When Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) brings his lead dancers from the Houston Ballet for a cultural tour to China, he is won over by Li’s passion and skill. He organises a very rare, short-term, cultural scholarship so that Li can study and dance with the Houston Ballet Company. At first Li is dazzled by the skyscrapers, electric appliances and freedom that Americans appear to take for granted. He soon begins to find his niche in the ballet company. He falls for an aspiring dancer Liz (Amanda Schull) and decides to fight for his new-found freedom.

Themes

Children separated from parents; communism versus capitalism; political freedom

Violence

This movie contains some violence. For example:

  • A ballet scene at Madame Mao’s Academy involves staged fighting.
  • Li is forcibly removed from a room in the Chinese Embassy and is dragged and shoved upstairs by embassy officials.
  • A friend tries to help him and is knocked down. There is some grabbing and shoving in the scene.
  • Li has a nightmare in which his family are dragged out of their village by soldiers and lined up to be executed. He awakes as a gun is pressed to his mother’s head and a shot rings out.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. For example:

  • Some children could be concerned about the way that Li is taken from his parents. It is very formal and uncaring, and he is obviously unhappy. He doesn’t know when or if he will see his family again. Later he is seen crying at night in the academy.
  • After he decides to remain in America, Li is haunted by nightmares about his family’s safety. He has not managed to contact them and can only hope they are safe. He wakes up after one dream of seeing them driven from the village wearing wooden signs strapped to their bodies. They are forced to kneel in the dirt and a gun is held against his mother’s head. She is clearly distressed. When a shot is fired, Li wakes and sits bolt upright, completely terrified. The scene is likely to distress children.

From 8-13

Children in this age group could also be disturbed by Li’s separation from his family and the nightmare described above.

Over 13

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.

Sexual references

This movie contains some sexual references. For example:

  • Some women comment that Li has a very nice body.
  • Li asks the husband of a ballerina if he likes ballet. The man responds that he likes ballerinas, because they are very ‘agile’.
  • Liz tells Li that she has never had sex before. He doesn’t understand the word ‘sex’, and they just keep kissing while he holds her.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie contains some use of substances. For example:

  • An older man smokes a pipe while telling a story to some young boys in China.
  • People drink wine and beer at clubs, bars, formal parties and opening night events.

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie contains some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Both men and women dance in brief and figure-hugging costumes.
  • Liz tells Li to come back to bed one night when she wakes to find him standing at the window. His chest is bare, and she is wearing a skimpy, slip-style nightdress.
  • There is kissing and sexy dancing at a night club.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie: Pepsi.

Coarse language

This movie contains some coarse language.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Mao’s Last Dancer is an autobiographical drama based on the book of the same name. It has heartfelt performances and beautiful dance scenes. It is likely to appeal to older children and grown-ups.

The main messages from this movie are to believe in yourself, find your inner strength, and never lose sight of your dreams.

Values in this movie that you might want to reinforce with your children include:

  • persistence and hard work
  • fighting for what you believe is right, no matter how many things appear to stand in your way
  • courage
  • tolerance of people who are different from you.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the following real-life issues:

  • the importance of cross-cultural communication and international diplomacy
  • the differences between ways of life and lifestyles in different parts of the world. In some parts of the world, there can be severe consequences for actions that appear very minor to westerners.