Maos Last Dancer

By Shantelle Papagelou

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Challenge 1

During the film of Mao’s Last Dancer the protagonist, Li Cunxin faced many challenges.


One that is raised in the film is separation from his family. An example of this challenge is raised when it was the night before Li was taken to Beijing. Li said to his mother, “Can you come to Beijing with me? I don’t want to leave you”. When Li was heard saying this, it was evident that he did not want to leave his family, although he was doing it for them. His mother said “Go on son, go make a better life for yourself”. In this scene oriental music is used to set the mood of the scene and how the characters feel.


This is also raised when Li is about to be taken to Beijing and his mother says “Go!, don’t look back”. You can see that Li did not want to be taken away from his family through his facial expressions as he looked afraid and sorrowful. A wide shot (W) is used to show where Li comes from and to show the movement Li made before leaving his family.



Another example of this challenge is seen in the film when Li has an interview with an American reporter. Li tells her that he has not been able to go back to China. The reporter asks him “How do you survive not seeing them?”. Li said that “I carry a photo of them wherever I go and when I dance I feel them”. When Li was replying to the reporter’s questions, you could see his sadness in his face that he missed them. In this scene a close up shot (CU) is used to show the emotions and reactions that Li is feeling about his family.



Li overcame this challenge through his ballet as he was so focused and with great determination to become one of the best dancers in the world for his family which paid off. At the end of the film Li performed and his parent came from China to watch him. When his mother saw him she started crying as she could not believe how --great of a dancer Li was.




In today’s society the challenges facing people in the same situation Li faced, would not be as difficult due to the fact that technology nowadays allows live conversations and streaming of family from far and beyond.

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Challenge 2

A challenge that Li faces in Mao’s last dancer is Doubt. As a young boy Li is seen to be doubting himself or being let down by others. An example of this is seen when Li has a flashback of when he first began dancing ballet. In this scene Li’s class are seen to be doing back bends. When it comes to Li’s turn he is told by his teacher that he is weak and that he is a “pig head”. Later on in the film he is called a “useless pig head”. Li stands up for himself and replies with “I’m not a pig head, how would you like it if i called you names?”. You can see that Li is scared but proud of himself for doing this through his facial expressions. In this scene a wide shot (W) is used to show how Li feels about his teacher and also it shows the movements that his teacher is making for him to doubt himself.


This challenge is also seen when Li says “I do not understand ballet”. Chan then replies with “one day, you will”. Li said “I honestly do not know why I was chosen, I should be home helping my family”. Chan said “If you want to help your family you can, you have the ability to be a great dancer. You just have to believe it”. After this Li started practicing his split jumps and carried bags filled with rocks to build up his strength. This inspirational talk made by Chan made Li think that he should believe in himself. In this scene oriental music is used to show how Li feels about Chan and that he does not believe that he can be a great dancer.


Finally, another scene where it is raised is when Li is doing the Donkihota dance, he takes a great pause. Through his facial expressions you can see that he is not determined to do this part but then he has a flashback of everything that has happened to him and thinks about the archer story that Chan told him about and continues dancing.


Li overcame this challenge of doubting himself or being doubted by others through his dance teacher Chan. He told him a story about a soldier who wanted to be an archer but he was not strong enough. So everyday he carried logs for one year. Then one day his master gave him the most powerful bow and the bowstring flew off as light as a feather. Li took Chan’s advice and carried heavy bags filled with rocks to make him stronger so that he could prove to his other teacher that he was not a “Pig head”. Soon enough Li was one of the strongest boys in his class. Chan also told him that “if you want to help your family, you can. You have the ability to be a great dancer”.


In today’s society people face many challenges as did Li. Doubting yourself or being doubted by others could mean that you may be lacking confidence or low in self esteem. The protagonist Li felt this way at the beginning of the film but later on he gained his self esteem and believed in himself.
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