Director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy) has chosen three actors from three different countries to play Li Cunxin in Mao's Last Dancer.

Chi Cao, principal dancer at the Birmingham Royal Ballet since 2002 and winner of the gold medal in 1998 at the Varna ballet competitions, will play the subject of the film as an adult.

Australian Ballet dancer Chengwu Guo will play the teenage Li, while Huang Wen Bin, from Beijing, will play him as a boy.

The drama starts shooting next week in China and is based on Li's autobiography, which describes how he went from the son of a peasant family at the end of the Cultural Revolution to a dancer to an executive in the financial industry, from China to the US to Australia, and from an uncertain future to freedom and personal triumph.

Beresford is working with Australians Jan Sardi (Shine), who wrote the script, and Jane Scott (Shine, Head On), who is producing alongside China's Geng Ling (Hero, House of Flying Daggers).

Other internationally renowned dancers in the cast include Madeleine Eastoe (current Australian Ballet principal artist), Camilla Vergotis (former Australian Ballet principal artist, current Hong Kong Ballet soloist) and Steven Heathcote (former Australian Ballet principal artist). Graeme Murphy, founder of the Sydney Dance Company, is the choreographer.

Paris-based Celluloid Dreams is the international sales agent for the film and domestic distributors are Hopscotch and Roadshow. Filming will also take place in the US and Australia.