Every time a biopic of a famous person is made, it is usually met with negative reviews or harsh criticism. Recent example: “The Iron Lady”, based on the life of Margaret Thatcher starring Meryl Streep. Though the movie won Streep her third Oscar deservingly, the reviews were not too positive. How much can a 2-hour movie say about such an icon and her accomplishments... or failures? It can never say enough. Similarly, I can imagine how difficult it must be to make a movie about someone like Aung San Suu Kyi’s magnitude who has led such an extraordinary life filled with both triumphs and tragedies.
Honestly, I have never been this excited about any movie. Any Burmese would say the same thing because finally there is a movie about us and this incredible woman we consider as our second mother. The reviews I had read before seeing the movie were scathing but it did not matter to me at all. Critics being critics plus it possibly cannot be that bad considering the man behind the film is Luc Besson whose film “The Fifth Element” is one of my all-time favorite movies.
Touted as a love story rather than a life story, Luc Besson’s “The Lady” shines spotlight on Aung San Su Kyi, Burma’s democracy icon and her scholar husband, Michael Aris’s ill-fated love story. While I appreciate Besson’s effort and respect him immensely for having guts to do the impossible which is making the movie about Burma outside of Burma, “The Lady” has its flaws.
The script is either too ambitious or rather aimless. It fails to tell the story of Aung San Su Kyi’s personal sacrifices and her struggles to bring democracy to her beloved country without being clichéd and uninspiring. It also seems that the theme of the movie could not be decided therefore it ends up being a little bit of everything; a short history of Burma, her father’s assassination, her family life in Oxford, the 1988 riot of Burma, the oppressive nature of the ruling military junta, her accidental rise to the leadership, her tireless campaigning all over Burma, Michael Aris’s efforts to aid his wife’s political agenda and subsequently his death from cancer during their separation. If this project was done as a miniseries like “Mildred Pierce” (2011) starring Kate Winslet, it would have been able to give enough room for these many events to fully materialize. As a 2-hour plus movie, it is tiring, stiff and it feels as if these important facts about her life were being read out speedily rather than presented tastefully as a movie.
There are many unnecessarily repeated scenes such as the numerous visits made by her sons and husband from London or her speeches shot on different locations but saying more or less the same thing. The dialogues between the characters, especially of the evil army generals are clumsy and corny. A golfing general ordering one of his soldiers to clear off the field by firing a gun at the two dogs that are getting in the way is also laughable. And it cheapens the actual brutality of the Burmese military junta and their human rights abuses throughout the country for decades. The train wreck script comes to an abrupt end with the scene in which the monks leading the saffron revolution come to her house to pay respect and she emerges from her gate to greet the monks.
The depiction of Yangon and her residence is quite accurate and convincing. David Thewlis’s Michael Aris is supportive, understanding and gentle to Yeoh’s stubborn, determined and courageous Su. Michelle Yeoh has the tremendous pressure playing a challenging role which is absolutely out of her comfort zone. While she has no problem pulling off a British accent, her Burmese makes me chuckle. But at least she tries and knowing my own language and its complexity, my hat is off to her. The phone conversations between Aris and Su during their separation are touching though the stereotypical dialogues could be improved. Physically, Yeoh’s embodiment of the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s grace and gentle manners is a success, particularly during the scenes of Su’s hunger strike but emotionally her portrayal does not quite get there, leaving me unmoved at times. To cast actors and extras who not only speak Burmese but also can act outside of Burma must be an arduous task. Therefore the secondary actors, including the two kid actors who play her sons and the Generals, obviously amateur actors, are the weakest link of the film. Their performances while minimal yet equally important fail to take the movie to where it should have been. The two hour plus movie is way too long and tedious with its ingredients not blending well.
“The Lady” is a thoughtful tribute to Aung San Su Kyi, our national heroine. I am truly grateful that the ongoing struggle of Burma’s democracy is eventually well-documented and presented to the world. As much as I applaud the good deed and noble intention I just wish I could do the same for the movie.