Mao's Last Dancer

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Short takes

Not recommended under 8 (lacks interest, scary scenes); parental guidance to 13 (disturbing scenes and themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Mao's Last Dancer
  • a review of Mao's Last Dancer completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 1 October 2009.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not recommended - lacks interest for this age group and contains scary scenes
Children 8-13 Parental guidance recommended due to disturbing scenes and themes
Children 14 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Mao's Last Dancer
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Infrequent mild violence and coarse language
Length: 117 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Chosen from thousands of children across China, young Li Cunxin (Huang Wen Bin) is taken from his family in a rural mountain village and brought to Beijing to study ballet at Madame Mao’s Academy. Unprepared for the harshness and discipline of his new environment Li struggles to find his place and prove himself. With the help of a politically incorrect teacher who believes in him and in his ability to become something far greater than anything they could imagine Li (played in his teenage years by Chengwo Guo and as an adult by Chi Cao) begins to find an inner strength that helps him through the harsh environment he daily endures and that will assist him in facing future set backs and challenges.

When Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) brings his lead dancers from the Houston Ballet for a cultural tour to China he is won over by Li’s passion and skill. He organizes a very rare, short term, cultural scholarship so that Li can study and dance with the Houston Ballet Company. At first Li is dazzled by the skyscrapers, electric appliances and freedom that Americans appear to take for granted but he soon begins to find his niche in the ballet company. He falls for an aspiring dancer Liz (Amanda Schull) and decides to fight for his new-found freedom.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Children separated from parents, communism vs. capitalism, political freedom

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • There is a ballet scene at Madame Mao’s Academy that involves staged fighting.
  • Li is forcibly removed from a room in the Chinese Embassy and is dragged and shoved upstairs by embassy officials.
  • A friend tries to help him and is knocked down. There is some grabbing and shoving in the scene.
  • Li has a nightmare in which his family are dragged out of their village by soldiers and lined up to be executed. He awakes as a gun is pressed to his mother’s head and a shot rings out.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under five, including the following:

  • Some children could be concerned about the manner in which Li is taken from his parents. It is very formal and rigid and he is obviously unhappy. He did not know when, or if, he would see them again. Later he is seen crying at night in the academy.
  • After he decides to remain in America Li is haunted by nightmares about his family’s safety. He has not managed to get in contact with them and can only hope that they are safe. He wakes up after one dream of seeing them driven from the village wearing wooden signs strapped to their bodies. They are forced to kneel in the dirt and a gun is held against his mother’s head. She is clearly distressed and when a shot is fired Li wakes and sits bolt upright, completely terrified. The scene is likely to distress children.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children in this age gorup may also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this film.

Product placement


Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • some women comment that Li has a very nice physique
  • Li asks the husband of a ballerina if he likes ballet. The man responds that he likes ballerinas, because they are very “agile”.
  • Liz tells Li that she has never had sex before. He doesn’t understand the word ‘sex’ and they just keep kissing with him clutching her.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Both men and women dance in brief and figure-hugging costumes
  • Liz tells Li to come back to bed one night when she wakes to find him standing at the window. His chest is bare and she is wearing a skimpy, slip style, nightdress.
  • There is kissing and sexy dancing at a night club.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • An older man smokes a pipe while telling a story to some young boys in China.
  • People drink wine and beer at clubs, bars, formal parties and opening night events.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • “Conniving little bitch”, “bastard”, “hell” and “chink” used as a racial slur.
  •  Liz is told that she “has balls”.

In a nutshell

Mao’s Last Dancer is an autobiographical drama based on the book of the same name that delivers heartfelt performances and beautiful dance scenes. It is likely appeal to older children and adults.

The main messages from this movie are to believe in yourself, find your inner strength and never lose sight of your dreams.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • persistence and hard work
  • fighting for what you believe is right, no matter how many things appear to stand in your way
  • courage
  • tolerance of those who are different.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children

  • the importance of cross-cultural communication and international diplomacy
  • that the way of life in one place may be very different from the lifestyles of people in another and that in other parts of the world there can be severe consequences for actions that, to us, may appear very minor.