Mao's Last Dancer

Synopsis: A drama based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet.
Director(s): Bruce Beresford
Production: Samuel Goldwyn Films
  6 wins & 20 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
117 min



Ni hao. Welcome to America.

Oh, its so wonderful

to see you.

- You alright?

- Yes. Yes.

Yeah? I've got some people

for you to meet.

This is Cyntha Dodds.

She's the general manager

of the company.

Pleased to meet you, Li.

And Mason Daniels.

He's on our board.

Howdy! Welcome to Houston.

And Betty Lou Bayless.

It's lovely to meet you,

young man.

- And Lori Lawley.

- Hi, Li.

I've heard so much

about you from Ben.

Lori's one of our

principal dancers.

- This is my husband, Dilworth.

- 'Knee-how', Li.

Wecome to Houston,

home of the Oilers.

Upon my soul.

Have you been learning English, Li?

Oh, yes, Ben.

- I learn from this.

- Oh, fantastic!

- Uh, 'fantas... '

- Fantastic. Fantastic.

It means wonderful,

very good, great.



Big... big house, Ben.

Um... you have a big family?

No, no it's just me.

And this is your room.


Um... this all me?

Yes, it's all yours.


- You get settled alright?

- Yes.

Oh, God, we really must do somethng

about that suit.

It's me, Ben.

Yes, that's you.

Bobby's around. You'll see him.

But Mary, alas,

has gone back to Australia.

Uh... niang, dia?

Um... mother... um, father?

Oh, no. That's Vice President Bush

and his wife, Barbara.

She's patron of

the Houston ballet.

Would you like a muffin?

Mu... muffin?


Um... horse... horse...

m... muffin?

Crap? Sh*t? Horse...

Horse sh*t?

Yes. Yeah.


This is a muffin.


It's Gershwin, guys.

You've got to feel it.

Just invest a Ittle more

Li, you're doing fine.

You'll pick it up. Its alright.

And... slow pli.

And stretch it out, right?

And... up wth the accent.

Up with the accent.

Up, and down on the floor.

Lovely. Hold.

And hold.


That's alright.

Incredible physique.

If you do say so yourself.

Some brown ones?

OK, one last one

and that's enough.

Let's see.

What's wrong?


My father work very hard,

have 50... 50 dollar... one year.

And you spend 500... one day.

Why you... why you do this?

Li, you know, I'm not

trying to influence you.

It's justwhat people

wear here, that's all.

I think that's probably why your

government gave youthis suit.

It's just a trifle out of date,

that's all.

I must give suit back.

Well, you can give these back

when you go home.

These can be yours to have

while you're here

at summer school and...

Why bird on?

"Don't let

the turkeys get you down. "

It's not a captalist thing,

Li, it's just...

Honesty, it's just

a bit of nonsense,

like a lot of things in America.

What it mean?

It means there are times

when you just have to be strong

- Ni hao.

- Ni hao.



Here you go, Li.

Thank you.

What's this?

It's just Pepsi. Give it a shot.

I know, I know. It's...

Yeah, I know. It gets

up your nose a little.


- Bobby?

- Yeah?

Lori - she good dancer.

Oh, yeah, she is.

But for a principal ballerina,

she makes

a lousy disco dancer.

Hey, you wanna dance, Li?

- No.

- Aww!

Allow me.

Dilworth, you like ballet?

I like ballerinas, Li. Very agile.

Chairman Mao, huh?

Yes, I love Chairman Mao.

He do many good thing.

Can't say I feel the same

about our new president.

You love president?

No, Li,

I dont even like him.


You not scared?

Scared? No.

This is America, Li.




I'm Shi Dao from

the Ministry of Culture.

Oh, thank you.

Ben Stevenson

- Welcome to Beijing.

- Thank you.

Let me introduce Mr Wang.


Director for Beijing Academy.

Mr Hung...

A pleasure to meet you.

These are

my princpal dancers,

Mary McKendry

and Bobby Cordner.

- Hello.

- Welcome to Beijing.

- Thank you.

- Thank you so much.

Music, please. Thank you.




Lovely. Alright, thank you.

Lets, um... Lovely. Not bad.

Lets try that just from

the beginning and copy them.


Five, six, seven, eight.

And five, six seven, eight.

And one, two and three. Lovely!

Lovely. That's very good. Alright.

Let's try it with music, shall we?

Lovely. Yes, turn, turn, turn.

Travel, travel, travel, travel!

Back in back in.

Energy, energy.

Right. Ready for the jump!

Yes, yes, yes!

Very good, very good indeed.

Alright, back to the top.

They're so light in the air

and so strong.

But there's no emotion.

They're not connected,

I'm not engaged.

Amazing technique.

We yeah, but, you know,

they remind me more of athletes

than dancers.

All except... Theres one,

perhaps two. Certanly one.

I think I know who you mean.

And from

the port de bras, yes?

And dvelopp.

Right, Li, get ready

to come in for the lift.


Oh, that's really not working.

Uh... Mary, would you

stand here for a moment?

Shing Hua, stay here

for one moment, alright?

Mary, you do it. Li, would you partner

Mary, please?

And, from the beginning, yeah?


Its alright, I won't bite.

Coud you tell him?

Right. Come on, come on.

There we go.

Ni hao.

I'm Mary.

Ni hao.

Minister, you have some

realy wonderful dancers here.

We've run the summer program

for several years now

and we've been

very successful.

Yeah, I see.

It's a tremendous success.

I think they're talking about us.


Because it would be wonderful

for the Houston Ballet.

The decision would

have to be made

by the party, Mr Stevenson.

Oh, of course,

I understand. Yes.


How'd it go?

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Jan Sardi

Jan Sardi is an Australian screenwriter. In 1997 he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay), for Shine. He has also written and directed Love's Brother, and adapted The Notebook, based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Sardi also adapted Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer, which film was released in 2009. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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