Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Tonight I watched the very nice movie, Mao's Last Dancer, a biopic about Chinese dancer Li Cunxin (based on his autobiography), who was trained in Communist China and later defected to the United States to dance with the Houston Ballet. Directed by Bruce Beresford, best known for Driving Miss Daisy and Breaker Morant, with screenplay by Jan Sardi, best known for Shine,, the film portrays the difficulty Li faced in achieving his desire to escape the rigid state-controlled Chinese dance in order to study, and then stay, in America, especially in light of the penalties heaped upon his family and the long years of not knowing about their welfare. Despite scenes and acting that reminds one of a Hallmark Classic, the film nonethless touches the heart; I will admit to tearing up several times. One of my favorite scenes is when young Li is given a contraband tape by his soon-to-be-banished teacher (for daring to insist on classical training) of Baryshnikov dancing, and the young Li's face lights up as he watches (and is inspired) as the star performs. The viewer roots for continued success for the dancer. Some of the ballet scenes are beautiful, especially the penultimate Rites of Spring, which I have never seen before. The cast did a credible job, and I love just about anything Joan Chen is in. Although the action officially takes place in Houston, most of the dancers are with Australian companies, and they are very good. Chi Cao, who portrays Li, is an exceptional dancer, and I loved his performce, especially in light of the fact that this apparently was his first tiem on the big screen. I encourage anyone who enjoys dance to see it.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Tonight I watched an excellent Japanese film, Kabei: Our Mother, about a mother of two girls whose scholar husband has been arrested by the militaristic government during the invasion of China, and then follows her efforts to provide for her children while remaining loyal to her man. She makes great sacrifices, and gets some help from a sister and a former student of her husband (who falls in love with her). It is a sad movie about the strength of a mother, undying love, the tough times the Japanese people had to suffer for their expansionist dreams, the perils of blind conformity, as well as the goodness and failing of many people. Based on Teruyo Nogami's memoirs, the film is lovingly presented by director Yoji Yamada. Sayuri Yoshinaga is wonderful in the main role, as are the two young actresses who play her daughters. The movie is a wonderful insight into the attitudes and culture of Tokyo during the war. I recommend it.