Mao's Last Dancer

By Matilda Pierucci

Mao's Last Dancer directed by Bruce Beresford

In the film Mao’s Last Dancer the main character Li faces many challenges. Li Cunxin is a young boy who lives in China in the time of the Cultural revolution. The director, Bruce Beresford, uses film techniques, effects and themes to help the audience connect to Li’s difficulties and all the challenges he must face.

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Li looking up at all the skyscrapers when he first arrives in America

ONE OF THE CONFLICTS LI FACES STARTS WHEN....

Li’s teacher points to the 11 year old boy and says “What about that one?” As a result this begins Li’s separation from his family. Li is asked to leave China and travel to America, on his own, to contribute to Chairman Mao’s vision (the vision of the future of China). On Li’s arrival to China his expressions represent fear. Li is challenged to adjust to a completely different environment where the language is different, the economy is different and the way of life is different. When Li is in the car passing through the city for the very first time he looks shocked and overwhelmed, Li is not used to this type of culture and luxury. The director shows a low angle shot of Li’s face looking up at the never ending skyscrapers to reinforce the fact that this is a very big change for Li.

Another challenge Li faces is Racism .....

This is shown when the directors of the Houston ballet are discussing who is going to play the main role in a very important performance. One of the judges suggest Li's name and one of the assistants says "but he's Chinese". The racist comment is put aside and Li is chosen to dance in the performance. This is a very important opportunity for Li because it will be the first time that he will be able to show the world what a great ballet dancer he is. Although he faces a lot of racism whilst dancing he is determined to keep going and make his family proud. The Director uses a far shot when Li steps on the stage of the backs of the audience and Li getting ready to make his dream a reality. Before Li begins his performance he pauses for a few seconds to take everything in and calm his nerves. All of Li's hard training and sacrifices were all worthy because now he can prove the world wrong and show that no matter what nationality you come from anyone is capable to make their dreams reality!

Relevance in todays society

Unfortunately racism is still common today, weather it be in sport, school or work racist comments are still made. Like Li, another sportsman Adam Goodes, was attacked with a racist comment in 2015, with people denying his capability in sport just because of his Indigenous background. Goodes was also criticised for his use of a traditional indigenous war dance, as an on field celebratory act. Like Adam Goodes, everything Li did was for his parents and country, in the film Li is always paying respect to his country.


Another Conflict Li faced that is still relevant in society is separation between families and having to flee countries. In 2014 Australia provided a home for 11,970 refugees who had to flee their countries for various reasons, whether it be war, economy or terrorism. Most of these people came from poor and neglected countries such as Iraq, Thailand, Nepal and many more. With the use and availability of social media nowadays things are a bit easier for some. I myself have experienced this and still do everyday, when i was 5 i had to leave my country of birth, Italy, to come to australia, i travelled with my mother and brother but left behind my father and the rest of the family, being across the world from each other is very hard but like Li i do everything to make my family back home proud and with the use of social media i am able to connect with them and make them participate in my dreams and accomplishments.