Aung San Suu Kyi

A woman with resolve

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2012, 12:00am

Family or nation? That's the monumental question Luc Besson asks in his biopic on human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh). The Lady dwells on her legacy as a pro-democracy advocate, and loving wife and mother.

When Suu Kyi is three, her father, a leader of the Burmese independence movement, is assassinated by rival forces. Years later, she leaves her family and moves to Britain, where she meets and marries Brit scholar Michael Aris (David Thewlis). They have two children. Soon, however, she leaves her family to return to Myanmar to attend to her ailing mother.

That's when Suu Kyi realises the plight of the Burmese, and thus begins her journey for political change.

She becomes leader of the National League for Democracy and in a 1990 general election, she receives 80 per cent of the votes. But the military resists handing over power and places her under house arrest; she is kept there off-and-on for more than 15 years.

She is later offered a chance to visit her cancer-stricken husband in Britain, but she denies the offer fearing she will not be allowed back to her homeland.

'As I was reading the script, I couldn't help but wonder how a mother could make such a choice,' says Virginie Besson-Silla, the director's wife and producer of The Lady. 'But after meeting with Suu Kyi just after her release, I understood that she had done it all out of love. She chose ? to help millions of people, over her own feelings.'

The film came to form in a backwards sort of way. Rather than a producer or director selecting the lead, Yeoh recruited Besson to join the project.

At first he refused. 'But then I read the script and was blown away!' says Besson. 'I immediately got back to Michelle to say I wanted to support the project, and that if she hadn't found a director, I was a candidate.'

With a film of this nature, casting is absolutely essential, especially for the lead. Yeoh, a Malaysian-Chinese, who speaks English, Chinese and Malay, was an ideal fit.

'Nobody but Michelle could have acted as Aung San Suu Kyi, given the striking resemblance,' says Besson-Silla. 'Not only are both women delicate and slender, but I think Michelle unconsciously mimics Aung San Suu Kyi, whom she knows well and has long looked up to.'

The Lady opens on Thursday