I had only heard bad reviews about Luc Besson’s latest film The Lady before I saw it. The negativity was primarily because the director’s earlier works, Leon: The Professional(1994) and The Fifth Element(1997), are very entertaining. After hearing The Lady was a biopic about Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, bad memories of the director’s mediocre The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc(1999) ran through my head. So, let’s examine The Lady.
In Burma 1947, young Aung San Suu sees her father Aung Sun, a democratic political leader, assasinated by the military. The traumatic event causes her to leave her homeland for England. She soon marries writer Michael Aris and has two children, forgetting her past turmoil and country. Though in 1988 everything changes when Suu is forced to return to Burma and help her ailing mother.
While back in her homeland, a group of democratic leaders confront Suu and ask her to help save Burma from military dictatorship. Though hesitant at first, Suu knows she must stay and fight for her country. As Michael and the children say good-bye to Suu, they expect to see her in a few months. They have no idea of the struggle ahead of them.
It’s easy to see why people were mislead by The Lady. Through trailers, audiences expected to see a political drama concerning the political atrocities committed by Burma’s military dictatorship, which has become quite a hot topic. Much like Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, while the politics do play an important part, it’s more about the figure. And in my opinion, that’s still compeling.
Leading the film, Michelle Yeoh has power in her reservation. Her ability to channel the dedicated Aung San Suu Kyi is wonderfully accurate. We know that she is strong, even when she’s not. Yeoh not only provides a strong voice for Asian actors and actresses in the Western world, but also a plight for the people of Burma. (The role also clears our memory of some of her past roles. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Keeper, anyone?)
David Thewalis, Suu’s husband, has kept himself relevant on the international scene thanks to his role in the Harry Potter series. We see a testament to his talents as he nearly brings us to tears in The Lady’s finale. Accompanied by his two sons, Kim (Jonathon Raggett) and Alexander ( Jonathon Woodhorse), the three boys become aged men while their mother is away.
Whether it be the early 90’s New York in Leon, alternate future in The Fifth Element, or politically violent Burma in the 80’s, I buy into Luc Besson’s blend of suspense and statement. We can take the screenwriter Rebecca Frayn’s message as serious as we like and still find ourselves stuck to the drama. The tragedy of every thwarted political move weighs on us as much as the family. Rather than delve completely into the politics of the country, (which I have nothing against), The Lady fuels itself by asking a continual question, fight for your people or stay with your family?