Strong 'Lady' fresh from today's headlines 

click to enlarge Real-life politics: Michelle Yeoh, pictured with David Thewlis, is excellent in the title role of “The Lady." - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Real-life politics: Michelle Yeoh, pictured with David Thewlis, is excellent in the title role of “The Lady."

With uncanny timing, just as Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi is in headlines everywhere, Luc Besson's 2011 feature film about her gets its release.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader is played by Chinese movie and martial arts star Michelle Yeoh. The resemblance between the two women is remarkable, and Yeoh is outstanding in the difficult role.

"The Lady" takes its name from what Suu Kyi is called in her country, now named Myanmar by its military rulers. She was the daughter of Gen. Aung San, who negotiated Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947, and murdered by rivals the same year.

The film opens with the scene of that assassination, when Suu Kyi was a young child. Leaving the turmoil of the country, she went to study in England, where she married a professor of Asian studies (played by David Thewlis) and became an "Oxford housewife."

Her mother's illness and eventual death took Suu Kyi back to Burma where, reluctantly, she became the leader of the opposition to the brutal, repressive military junta.

In an astonishing political upset in 1990, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 80 percent of the seats in Parliament, but the military declared the election void. The junta placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she remained for two decades, refusing the offer to leave the country.

During this time, and until her election victory earlier this month, she became world famous as "Burma's Gandhi," a leader who won a Nobel Prize and devoted to nonviolence in the midst of harsh, often deadly, oppression.

Although “The Lady” is not a documentary, it follows historical events and Suu Kyi’s biography closely. While some scenes depict her family life, "The Lady" has a single-minded focus on politics and presents Suu Kyi in the context of good vs. evil. The judgment is accurate, but the insistence on the single aspect of the story lessens the film's value.

Strangely, another new film about Burma has more life and color than "The Lady" does. "They Call It Myanmar," filmed clandestinely over two years by Robert H. Lieberman, a septuagenarian Cornell University physics professor, is a documentary with all the virtues of a great feature film.

The Lady
three stars
Starring Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis
Written by Rebecca Frayn
Directed by Luc Besson
Rated R
Running time
2 hours 7 minutes

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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