Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lady

Year: 2011
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis

Plot: The story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who fought for democracy in military ruled Burma.

Review: As a Malaysian, there is a sense of pride in watching fellow Malaysian Michelle Yeoh take on democracy icon Suu Kyi, who is known around the world for her peaceful resistance against the military junta that has ruled Burma with an iron fist for decades. This film is certainly an opportunity for her story to be heard by even more people, who may not be aware of it.

After watching it, I can say that a lot of effort went into the making of this film, as far as authenticity is concerned. Suu Kyi's house was apparently a near perfect replica of the original, for starters. The Burmese cast are mostly Thai, but they look and sound their parts very well. There is also a fair share of violence here as director Luc Besson depicts the atrocities committed by the junta and the steps they take to cut down support for Suu Kyi. So as far as a visual sense is concerned, the film is authentic enough.

But The Lady isn't just about Suu Kyi, it's also about her relationship with her family, particularly with her husband Michael Aris. This particular relationship takes a tumultuous road throughout the film as we see them getting separated and reunited over and over, until Michael is diagnosed with cancer and tragedy strikes. The emotional drama in this film is mostly from this relationship, and less from her struggle for her country. I know how this must be frustrating for some viewers, hoping to see more of Suu Kyi the freedom fighter, but rest assured we do get to see this in the film, just not as much as we'd like.

Michelle Yeoh, known around the world as an action star, fits the role of Suu Kyi well enough, having the advantage of looking a lot like the real icon. Yeoh had to lose weight to play her and it shows. But to be fair, Yeoh is much better at conveying emotion by her facial expressions than her words. When she cries and grieves, it's convincing, but not so when she speaks. Her command of the Burmese language is commendable, I must say. But I felt less of a connection when she is speaking to people around her, from her family to her supporters. David Thewlis looks very different from his days starring in Harry Potter films. Here he looks like a tired old man, but one that is wise and supportive, and a match for Yeoh. Their relationship grounds the film and holds it together.

As ambitious as The Lady might be, it is far from perfect. Besson isn't really skilled enough to handle a biopic as he is with action films. Here Besson moves the film from one historic scene to another, placing personal drama in between from time to time, doing so very quickly at times that he doesn't allow any potential drama to settle in the scenes. As such, the film feels like a long stretch of happenings instead of a story unfolding as it progresses. With the film running slightly over two hours, this style of storytelling would tire viewers quickly.

Overall, The Lady is a flawed but ambitious film about the great Aung San Suu Kyi. It achieves its objective of telling her story, but just barely. (3/5)  

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