'The Lady' Features Michelle Yeoh as Burma's Pro Democracy Leader


Alan Silverman

French director Luc Besson is best-known for bullet-riddled action films, but his latest movie spotlights a woman of peace: Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Michelle Yeoh plays "Daw Suu." Here's a look at the film titled, simply, The Lady.

When Aung San Suu Kyi left her family in England in 1988, she thought it would be a short visit to  Burma to care for her ailing mother. Instead, "Daw Suu" followed in the footsteps of her father, who was a national hero. She became the leader of a pro-democracy movement.

SUU KYI: "It may be a little late to be saying this, but you realize I've never actually spoken in public before."
MICHAEL: "Well, there's no time like the present."

David Thewlis plays Daw Suu's supportive husband Michael, an Oxford don (fellow).

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in a scene from
Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in a scene from "The Lady" (Photo - Magali Bragard)

Malaysia-born Michelle Yeoh, who learned to speak Burmese for her role, recalls recreating that 1988 speech to a crowd gathered in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. The government would not allow the film to be shot in Burma, so Thailand doubles for its neighbor.

"The first speech that she makes is in Burmese to her people to let them understand that even though she did marry a foreigner and lived outside of Burma for so long, she was her father's daughter. She can not turn away from what is happening to her country. So we can't take liberties and do it in English. It just wouldn't be right," Yeoh says.

Michelle Yeoh with the director, Luc Besson, on the set of
Michelle Yeoh with the director, Luc Besson, on the set of "The Lady" (Photo - Magali Bragard)

"When I did the Shwedagon speech, Luc was saying 'there is someone that is crying behind you the whole time.' We found out that he was there. He said 'in 1988 I was in the audience looking up at 'Daw Suu,' hearing her say the speech. Today I am standing behind her listening to her say the speech again,'" she explains.

Yeoh says Luc Besson found many background players who lived through the events being portrayed.

"He went to the Burmese refugee camps up in northern Thailand, and he cast about 200 of them. All of them were not actors, but they were very natural because, of course, they were Burmese," Yeoh notes. "But the way they moved when they were with me helped me tremendously."

A Scene from
A Scene from "The Lady" (Photo - Magali Bragard)

Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in 2010 became a remarkable post-script that was added to the film. And its arrival now at American and European theaters coincides with her election to parliament.

"The Lady has a very important message of an awakening," Yeoh says. "I hope that people who did not know about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, about the plight of the Burmese people, will now have an option to see whether they want to do something because now they know."

Michelle Yeoh met with Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 before shooting the film. But when she tried to return in June last year,  the actress was deported with no explanation.

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