Earlier this year, I got an email from a friend in England who had just watched The Lady. He gave it lavish hosannas, and strongly recommended it. I was finally able to catch up with it this week.
The Lady is a “based on a true story” telling of the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is played by Michelle Yeoh, and with that, I’ve already told you the best thing about the movie (I am not to be trusted on this, I am very much the fanboy when it comes to Yeoh). The acting is solid throughout, with David Thewlis drawing our attention as Suu Kyi’s husband. Perhaps too much attention, since the way Besson and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn have decided to “humanize” Suu Kyi is to emphasize what her separation from her family means to her. (Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma, while her husband and sons lived in England and were only able to make infrequent visits.) This emphasis turns the story of a remarkable woman into the clichéd tale of a woman who must choose between family and work (in her case, “work” being bringing democracy to her country).
Suu Kyi’s actual politics are reduced to a generic call for democracy, a fine agenda, to be sure, but again, without a deeper presentation of her politics, we’re left with a simplified version of reality. Besson wants to make an emotional connection with the audience, and he does very good work with the spectacle surrounding Burma at the time. But he needed to take a few risks … when you are telling the story of a woman who risked everything, you should also step outside the comfort zone of biopic genre conventions.
Still, Yeoh covers up a lot of flaws. She’s grown a lot in her career as well, from being Miss Malaysia to being the one woman Jackie Chan would let do her own stunts, from being the only Bond Girl to suggest she’d make a better 007 than the nominal hero to co-starring in the Oscar-winning classic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She brings something interesting to every role I’ve seen her in, and she is the reason to see The Lady. 7/10. For a different kind of Yeoh, watch Supercop (or Police Story 3, or whatever it’s called this week), or watch her steal Tomorrow Never Dies from Pierce Brosnan.