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This article was published on 14 May 2012, and is filed under Film.

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The Steel Orchid


“You are free to choose, madam. Your husband and your children, or your country.”

“And what kind of freedom is that?”

 

I blogged about this film on December 2010, in which I expressed so much excitement that the blog post makes me cringe if I ever read it back. To summarise: I gushed. A lot! So imagine my elation when the disc was delivered to my door a year and a half later.

The Lady is a biopic documenting the life of Burmese opposition politician and General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, from the assassination of her father to her final release from house arrest.

Some have criticised both this film and the recent biopic of Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady, as being too heavily focused on the personal relationships of these women with their husbands and families, and thus the political content is lacking. I argue that “The Lady” is, at its core, simply a love story. A love between husband and wife, and a love between a woman and her country.

 

Scene from The Lady by Luc BessonScene from Luc Besson’s The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh

 

One scene in particular encapsulates the monumental strain of such a situation, where Michelle Yeoh, who plays Daw Suu, approaches a line of military junta members, guns in hand, ready to shoot. Slowly she glides forward, to the disapproval of one of the soldiers who threatens her, until she is now in line with the soldiers. She steps into the gap between two soldiers and continues to approach the one in charge who stands behind them. Machine versus woman, it’s an incredibly moving juxtaposition of brutality versus grace. It’s the visualisation of the well-known term “between a rock and a hard place”. Daw Suu must choose between her country, her people, or her family.

Yeoh was challenged to play a role like no other she had in the past. One that did not require an external performance of her body via martial arts, but rather an internal performance that required heartbreaking glances and heartfelt public announcements in Burmese – which she learnt for the film. To receive such a contained, yet powerful performance from a Malaysian actress who’s previous films largely consisted of stunt-filled action films is rather outstanding.

It seems inevitable that East Asian actors will be cast for martial arts roles in Western films. A lot of the stars of Chinese cinema originated from the Peking Opera school that focusses on areas such as music, vocal performance and acrobatics, therefore Asian actors do not appear to deliver the same stillness that many characters in Western films, such as Daw Suu in The Lady, demand. Perhaps they have not even been given the opportunity. However, here is Michelle Yeoh, delivering the best performance of her career with softly spoken words, graceful movements and compassion behind her eyes. The prospect of more Western directors combining with East Asian actors is rather exciting.

For Aung San Suu Kyi, her weapon is her word, and her fuel is her love; it is a love story and it’s near impossible to not fall in love with with both Daw Suu and Michelle Yeoh.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi Honorary Freewoman of Brighton and Hove Graffiti © AppleJuiceAung San Suu Kyi graffiti portrait in Brighton, UK

//words by Sarita ‘Frit’ Tam
//film still from IMDB