Destiny doesn’t seem to play into our lives (or movies) as much as it used to. But in Lady, a biopic based on the life of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, destiny rips a housewife from her duties and thrusts her into the heart of a nation’s struggle for democracy.
The struggle starts with the death of Suu’s father, the figure of Burma’s independence. He’s a national hero, but he dies in a coup when Suu was just a child. Suu eventually leaves her homeland, and ends up marrying a charming and charismatic Oxford academic named Michael. Together, the couple has two sons. Destiny, however, beckons Suu back to Burma when her mother enters the hospital. And Suu stays in the country of her birth a bit longer than expected.
In fact, she never leaves. Even has her husband, who selflessly supports her, suffers with cancer.
The drama that unfolds in Lady is not unfamiliar to those who’ve seen biopics of political figures. There are starts and setbacks and triumphs and betrayals and personal struggles, but what makes Suu’s story interesting is its somewhat strange rhythm.
Suu never really wins. She gains recognition from the West – she wins the Nobel Peace Prize, for instance – but the brutal and stupid and superstitious Burmese military never releases its choke hold on power. The authorities, as they call themselves, are so annoying and robot-like that now, as news writer, I can’t even put down the word authorities without a slight squirm.
In other words: the movie’s storytelling is effective. Michelle Yeoh, who plays Suu, is remarkable. I used to adore her in the days when she cut rapier-sharp kicks into the faces of henchmen alongside Jackie Chan in movies like Supercop 2. In Lady she plays a Ghandi-like activist, but her Wushu, feline fearlessness still shines through.
That fearlessness, that facial toughness is augmented by the considerable psychological struggle her character faces as she’s placed under house arrest for nearly a decade. Suu and Michael bear the enormous weight of staying positive and separated in a struggle with no clear end. This constant strain on Suu requires Yeoh to be vulnerable on camera, and she succeeds in making that look how it needs to: human.
Where Lady struggles is in its identity. I couldn’t figure out if the movie was about Suu’s life, the relationship she had with her family or Burma’s struggle for democracy. To be fair, it could be about all three, but I don’t think the movie gave me enough information about any of those topics. And for a biopic, I find that somewhat unsatisfying.
On top of these somewhat vague complaints, I offer more vague complaints: it all felt like something I’ve seen before and, due to the nature of Burma’s struggle, the movie seems to run on and on and on and on.
However, these issues can be overlooked if you’re in the mood to learn about the central woman in Burma’s struggle for democracy. But if the words based on a true story don’t do much for you, don’t bother with Lady.
Lady was directed by Luc Besson.
It’s playing at the Lagoon Cinema.