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'Mao's Last Dancer' has art overcome oppression
Showtime with Sasha
maos last dancer
Chi Cao portrays Li Cunxin, who was forced into ballet by his government but who found his art because of it, in "Mao's Last Dancer." - photo by Studio photo

This week’s film combines the elements of history, dance and a far-off land into one sweeping drama. The picture is called “Mao’s Last Dancer,” and I found it intriguing, marvelous to watch and very inspirational. Based upon the real-life autobiography of Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin, the film depicts one young man’s journey from rural communist China to the stage of the Houston Ballet in the United States. I dare you to watch without a box of tissues.
Li is plucked from school one day by government officials and dropped into a militaristic boot camp for ballet dancers. His life will never be the same again. Overcoming many obstacles, Li begins to excel as a dancer, but even then he feels the oppression of his society preventing true freedom of expression. Once he’s selected as an exchange student to the United States, things only become more complicated. Will Li adapt to our culture? Should he? As he tastes freedom for the first time, will his heart be captured by an American dancer?
If Li decides to try to stay in America, the consequences for his family in China could be dire.
 I’m a fan!
The dance sequences in this picture are beautiful. Li’s life story is a tear-jerker. The film is well-made and one just about anybody can appreciate. If you like foreign films but you aren’t crazy about reading subtitles, this also may be for you. Much of the film is in English.
Now if you are ready to delve more deeply into Chinese cinema, there are some real dramatic gems out there. I highly recommend “The King of Masks” from 1996 and “Together” from 2002. The first follows an orphaned girl poised to unlock the mysteries of an ancient art — as long her new guardian doesn’t figure out she isn’t actually a boy, as she is pretending to be. The second is all about a poor young violin prodigy and his father’s struggle to support him.

Sasha normally also does a video version of her reviews, but was unavailable to do one this week.

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