Bruce Beresford may here be closer to the manipulative Driving Miss Daisy (1989) than to his earlier masterpieces of emotional restraint, Breaker Morant (1980) and Tender Mercies (1983) — but he gets good performances from his cast.
There's Chi Cao, a principal at Birmingham Royal Ballet, in his screen debut; there's Joan Chen (The Last Emperor) as a long-suffering mother. And, especially, there's Bruce Greenwood (The Sweet Hereafter) in a tricky role as Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson — he has a touch of the ol' Mao in him. Working from Jan (Shine) Sardi's straightforward adaptation of Li Cunxin's autobiography,
Beresford imagines a baldly inspiring tale of the exile's life, from poverty in China to fame and fortune in the US after a dramatic defection in the early '80s. "I dance better here . . . feel more free," says Li. Watching Chi soar through the air, you believe it.