The most stunning achievement about this film-based-on-a-true-story is not the exquisite and powerful ballet moves or the way it captures a poor, rural childhood in Communist China or the spot-on recreation of the disco era in the United States in the 1970s.
It's Bruce Greenwood's effeminate turn as the director of the Houston Ballet. I mean this with the utmost respect: His performance is the gayest thing I've seen on screen since Truman Capote was featured in Neil Simon's Murder By Death. (And, yes, I'm counting Martin Short's Franc, the wedding planner in Father of the Bride.) The Chronic Critic was but a fifth grader who didn't know what "gay" meant when she saw Murder by Death, but she knew Mr. Capote was something special.
Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, etc.) directs this sweeping film that follows the improbable journey of Li Cunxin from his small province in China to a prestigious, government-run ballet academy in Beijing to his days as an exchange student in Houston. The Communist government has tight control over Li and tries to ensure he doesn't like America too much. Fat chance, what with the discotheques, Pepsi colas, women and freedom.
Interspersed with the impressive dancing is a tale of international political intrigue as China battles to hold on to its beloved ballet superstar. Both themes are enthralling, and both are given equal screen time.
The acting is not uniformly great -- but, hey, the Chronic Critic understands it can't be easy to cast actors equally gifted at acting and ballet. And, the acting is actually good, with the exception of the actress who plays Li's American girlfriend.
But, the standout performance belongs to Greenwood. After a career of playing mostly macho, who knew he was capable of such? See it.