Director Bruce Beresford, best known for “Driving Miss Daisy,” returns to the themes of cross-cultural connections in this film based on the memoir of Chinese ballet star Li Cunxin.
Li (Chinese surnames appear first) was taken from his poor, rural family at age 11 to study ballet. Madame Mao had declared the arts to be a priority and officials were sent to the furthest reaches of the country to find children who could be trained. Li succeeds more through determination than passion or natural ability, and despite Madame Mao’s insistence on ballet performances based more on political messages than on art. His family (with the radiant Joan Chen as his mother) is very proud of his contribution to China.In 1979, in the early, fragile days of US-China diplomatic relations, Li is sent to spend some time as a guest trainee with the Houston ballet, led by Ben Stevenson (the always-superb Bruce Greenwood).
His English is poor. His understanding of anything other than what he has been told by the Chinese authorities is non-existent. The Americans’ ability to understand him is not much better. But there is the common language of dance. And there Li is so dazzling he is quickly given an opportunity to perform in a key role on stage. The audience loves him.Li does not want to go home. He becomes romantically involved with a tender-hearted young dancer. He appreciates the opportunity to perform without regard to the political content of the ballet. He consults a lawyer (a crafty Kyle MacLachlan). He takes a very big risk for himself and also for those who have befriended him.The film feels episodic and oddly understated and remote. That may be in part because the key role of Li is divided between three actors, Wen Bin Huang as a child, Chengwu Guo as a teenager, and Chi Cao as an adult. Or, it may be because Li the character is reserved by nature and training and something of a cipher. But like its title character, the movie comes alive in the ballet performances, which are well-staged and convey not only the creative energy of their own story-telling but the ultimate expression of the performers’ passion for their art.
Slate’s Jessica Grose has a terrific interview with the wonderful Anna Chlumsky, child star of the 1991 classic “My Girl.” Chlumsky took time away from acting to finish school and work as an editor before returning to star in this week’s Hallmark Channel movie Three Weeks, Three Kids and in the upcoming HBO series “VEEP,” from “In the Loop” writer/director Armando Iannucci. She will play the chief of staff to a U.S. Vice President (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). The interview is well worth reading — she is smart and funny and has some great stories. And I love her answer to the question about whether Iannucci’s view is that politics is futile:
I agree that there’s a sense of “nobody’s a hero,” so there’s a futility in that sense. Does it mean that it’s a bad thing? I don’t know. Is just is. VEEP is going to be like that. Nobody’s safe. I get so bored when this person’s bad and this person’s good. My first litmus test when I see a piece or read a piece is: Is someone feeding me answers or did I leave with questions? That’s for me the only way to make an excellent piece.
It’s good to have her back!
The cast of “Glee” is going on the road with a concert tour, and Fox has announced that a 3D film of the tour will be in movie theaters late this summer. Cast members Lea Michele (Rachel), Cory Monteith (Finn), Amber Riley (Mercedes), Chris Colfer (Kurt), Kevin McHale (Artie), Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), Mark Salling (Puck), Dianna Agron (Quinn), Naya Rivera (Santana), Heather Morris (Brittany), Harry Shum Jr. (Mike), Chord Overstreet (Sam), Darren Criss (Blaine), and Ashley Fink (Lauren) will perform, and cameras will record on- and off-stage moments for the theatrical release. Stay tuned for further details!