Thank you, Cristian, for sharing with us your personal response to this film. A friend of our, a former professional dancer still engaged in the ballet world, also had an emotional reaction to the film, based on areas with which he identified. Identification, even ambivalent identification, can give value to a film that the rest of us do not always experience.
Coincidentally, I finally got around to seeing the film just a couple of days ago. I wish I could say that I found it personally engaging or that it touched something real inside me.
The China scenes were the best for me, each of which were full of what seemed like real people and which seemed based on what really took place. The Chinese and Chinese-American actors -- especially those playing the dancer's parents, his first classical ballet teacher, and the gentlest of the Chinese diplomats in Houston -- created the actors who engaged me the most.
The American side of the story was standard tv soap opera, as far as I am concerned. (The kind of soap opera that tries to legitimize itself by dealing with "big" social and philosophical themes.) I felt that there was an attempt to manipulate me and did not enjoy that. Houston and its ballet world (filmed mostly in Australia) seemed cartoonish (i.e.
sketchy and cliched) and false.
The dancing sequences were more than false. They were bizarre --
-- a garishly designed student Giselle
which is the stand-in for "classical ballet" rejected by Mme Mao with the funniest line in the film: "Where are the guns?"
-- a version of the Red Brigade
ballet (guns, sharp points, acrobatics), which is the stand-in for the "bad" ballet the protagonists wishes to escape
-- a clumsy, poorly danced, and quite ugly Swan Lake
(to a simplified score based loosely on Tchaikovsky)
-- and, worst of all, a Las Vegas circus routine posing as the Rite of Spring
(with Li as a glitter-covered male Chosen One).
was especially jaw-dropping, given that it is the final performance of the movie and, one assumes, the of Li's career, one assumes. Li's parents, finally able to travel from China to be reunited with their son after many years, are in the audience. Mrs. Li (an actress with a glorious face that, miraculously, never ages despite decades of hard peasant labor) is puzzled by the choreography. The rest of the Houston audience are over-the-top ecstatic.
I notice that Graeme Murphy is credited as the choreographer. (On IMDB.com Murphy's name appears WAY down the long lost of technical and creative people, which may say something about the value that the producers gave to choreography.)
To present Murphy's profoundly pedestrian choreography as the work of Ben Stevenson's is an insult to the real Ben Stevenson.
Is THIS the kind of work that Li left China in order to be free to perform?