Wednesday, May 02, 2012

THE LADY - A Triumph for Michele Yeoh

THE LADY (biopic)
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse, Benedict Wong and Susan Wooldridge
Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Rebecca Frayn 
Time: 143 mins
Rating:  *  *  1/2 (out of 4)

Michele Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi

PREAMBLE: Like Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, Luc Besson's The Lady is flawed and overdrawn but it still manages to move me, hence the 2.5-star rating. And just like Meryl Streep's performance transcended the script of Iron Lady, Michele Yeoh manages a captivating portrayal of Myanmar's activist Aung San Suu Kyi in this still-unfolding drama that saw the real Suu Kyi being elected to Parliament recently.

I don't know about the others but that scene of Yeoh facing off pointed guns of Burma's military sent goose-pimples all over my body.

The Lady (Yeoh) meeting the hill tribes of Burma

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie opens showing Suu Kyi as a toddler when her father General Aung San is assassinated in 1947. The story then moves to England of 1988 where we find Suu Kyi, her Oxford academic husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis) and her two sons, Kim (Jonathan Raggett) and Alex (Jonathan Woodhouse) living 'ordinary' lives until a phone call from Burma changes everything.

Suu Kyi is told that her mother is warded with a stroke and when she flies to Burma to see her, she finds herself in the middle of the nation's political upheaval followed by a violent military crackdown by General Ne Win (Htun Lin). When the military ruler bows to demands for democracy, Suu Kyi is asked by her father’s supporters to stay back in Rangoon and lead the new National League for Democracy. The rest of Suu Kyi's life has been well documented in the newspapers - and the plight of Burma (or Myanmar) is still unravelling.

Thewlis and Yeoh - a marriage of sacrifices

HITS & MISSES: One of the most glaring flaws is the 'blank' over Suu Kyi's youth and romantic life from the Fifties to 1988. Did her education/social involvements or environment help to define her political will later in life? How did she meet Michael? The movie is supposed to be a biography on the life of Myanmar's version of Gandhi and Mandela - and it is a shame that such a huge part of her life is conveniently left out.

Other lesser flaws are the slipshod portrayal of minor characters like the generals and soldiers who appear to be caricatures rather than real people. Also, Michael's problems in bringing up the kids himself is glossed over with just a scene showing Lucinda Philips (Susan Woolridge) coming over to help cook a better meal.

Rebecca Frayn's screenplay offers nothing new about Suu Kyi's non-political life and very few insights into the country's politics other than showing Ne Win barking orders at his aides. Suu Kyi's political smarts are expressed in such pearls of wisdom as "Democracy will only work if we include everybody" and other platitudes written boldly in brush strokes.

The love story between Suu Kyi and 'Mikey' is the most compelling element in the movie and ultimately, Yeoh and Thewlis win us over with their performance as a loving couple who share a dream and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. Despite its flaws, this movie is bound to heighten world interest in Suu Kyi and her quest.

THE LOWDOWN: Definitely a triumph for Michele Yeoh.


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