Mao's Last Dancer (2009)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Making Of
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 112:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:37) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bruce Beresford

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Bruce Greenwood
Chi Cao
Kyle MacLachlan
Amanda Schull
Joan Chen
Jack Thompson
Alice Parkinson
Christopher Kirby
Case ?
RPI ? Music Christopher Gordon

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In)
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Mao's Last Dancer tells the life story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin and is based on his autobiography of the same name. It is an Australian production, directed by Bruce Beresford, which won two AFI Awards and was nominated for seven others in 2009. The movie was shot in China, Houston and various locations in Sydney (mostly substituting for Houston).

Li Cunxin (Chi Cao and various children) started life as a peasant in rural China in the 1960s. He was the sixth of seven children. While attending the local school he was chosen to audition for Madame Mao's Arts Academy in Beijing. This academy trained dancers for ballet with a focus on revolutionary style ballet rather than western ballet. The story of his arduous training, which went on many hours a day for many years, is told in parallel with his visit as a student to the Houston Ballet starting in 1981. There he lived with Ben Stevenson (the ubiquitous Bruce Greenwood), the choreographer for the Houston Ballet. He quickly becomes a popular dancer in the company and gets a chance to show what he is capable of. During his stay in Houston he develops a relationship with another dancer, Elizabeth Mackey (Amanda Schull), and when it is time to leave and return to China he marries her instead in an attempt to stay. This causes an international incident when the Chinese authorities attempt to forcibly send him back. Eventually they relent and allow him to stay in the US but revoke his Chinese citizenship meaning that he cannot return to see his family. He becomes a famous and highly successful ballet dancer. Eventually he retired to Australia with his second wife, ballet dancer Mary McKendry (Camilla Vergotis). Also appearing in minor roles are Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen and Jack Thompson.

This is a well shot film with a beautiful score of classical and Chinese influenced music by Christopher Gordon. The ballet scenes are beautifully staged and choreographed by Graeme Murphy. Unfortunately, the pace is a bit plodding at times and the central roles, which are obviously required to be filled by professional dancers, lack the emotional resonance of the roles inhabited by professional actors. Bruce Greenwood and Joan Chen stand out from an acting perspective, both putting in excellent performances. Chen features prominently in one of the few truly emotional scenes in the film. Chi Cao, who is a professional ballet dancer in England, is a magnificent dancer but slightly wooden in character driven scenes.

People who enjoyed the book will certainly enjoy the film which is competently made but lacks a little in emotional resonance.

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Transfer Quality


The video quality is very good.

The feature is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 enhanced widescreen.

The picture was quite clear and sharp throughout without being up with the best SD transfers. Shadow detail was good. There is a significant amount of gain during scenes of Li's childhood; however based on comments in the featurette this seems to be an artistic choice rather than a transfer issue.

The colour was very good however there was again a desire to make the Chinese scenes undersaturated.

I noticed some minor MPEG compression artefacts here and there such as at 56:45 but nothing alarming.

There are subtitles in English for the hearing impaired. They are clear and easy to read. There are also burned in subtitles for the occasional foreign languages.

The layer change was not noticeable during playback but occurs at 74:37.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio quality is very good but hardly a home theatre tester.

This DVD contains three audio tracks, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448Kb/s, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Descriptive soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s.

Dialogue was mostly clear and easy to understand. The subtitles proved useful for the occasional hard to catch line.

The music consists of the classical pieces from the various ballets along with a Chinese influenced score by Christopher Gordon.

The surround speakers were only used for minor atmospherics and music.

The subwoofer was used for music mostly.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The menu includes music, motion and scenes from the film.

Behind the Scenes (19:21)

One of the better making of featurettes I have seen recently. It includes coverage of the book, how it was adapted, shooting in China, finding the various locations, casting, descriptions of Beresford's process and interviews with cast and crew members.

Photo Gallery

Gallery of various shots from the film and on set.

Deleted Scenes (0:23, 0:29, 0:23, 1:35, 1:21, 2:15, 0:50, 0:51)

A selection of fairly minor cut scenes which mostly focus on things occurring in China before he went to America including more drills and getting his first suit. Nothing much here.

Theatrical Trailer (2:39)

A voiceover gives this a different feel to the movie.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has yet to be released theatrically in the US and there does not seem to be any other DVD releases at this stage.


    A worthy but emotionally lacking biopic of Chinese ballet dancer, Li Cunxin.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    A small selection of decent quality extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS708H upscaling to 1080p, using HDMI output
DisplayLG Scarlet 42LG61YD 106cm Full HD LCD. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Sony SAW2500M Subwoofer

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