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'The Lady': Burma's Suu Kyi biopic on release

Matthew Warren · 30 Nov 2011, 08:10

Published: 30 Nov 2011 09:10 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Nov 2011 08:10 GMT+01:00

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Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gets a celluloid reincarnation on Wednesday when a movie version of her life by "Fifth Element" and "The Big Blue" director Luc Besson goes on release in France.

Malaysian star Michelle Yeoh, a former "Bond girl", plays "The Lady" in a two-hour biopic that focuses on the private life of Suu Kyi, her British husband Michael Aris and their two sons.

Suu Kyi's struggle for her country came at a high personal cost. Her husband died in 1999 in Britain, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the Burmese junta denied him a visa to see his wife.

Suu Kyi refused to leave Burma to see him, certain she would never have been allowed to return.

"It was the price she had to pay," said Luc Besson. "Thousands of people give their lives unquestioningly, simply because they believe it is a just cause."

"The love that united her with her husband gave her immense strength," said Michelle Yeoh.

The daughter of Burma's assassinated independence hero General Aung San, Suu Kyi began her own political career late after spending much of her life abroad.

She studied at Oxford University, had two sons after marrying Aris and looked like she was going to settle into life in Britain.

But when she returned to Yangon in 1988 to nurse her sick mother, protests erupted against the military, which ended with a brutal crackdown that left at least 3,000 dead.

She took a leading role in the pro-democracy movement, delivering speeches to crowds of hundreds of thousands.

This is the point where Besson's film takes up her story.

Yeoh, who learned Burmese to help her play the part, said she finally got to meet Suu Kyi at her crumbling lakeside mansion in Yangon, where she was under house arrest, as filming was winding down in Thailand.

"She walked up to me to embrace me and take my hand," she said. "She looks fragile but she emanates great strength."

Besson also met the subject of his film after her release last November, when filming on the project had already finished.

He recalled finding himself outside the house which his team had scrupulously recreated "practically to the centimetre" in Thailand, where most of the film was shot.

The French filmmaker, whose recent movies also include the popular animated "Arthur" series, did manage to film some scenes in Burma itself, where he posed as a tourist and shot with a small camera.

"I filmed 17 hours of rushes, sometimes with a soldier three metres away," he recalled.

The film's actors were then super-imposed on the Burma scenes with the help of "green screen" technology.

Story continues below…

Suu Kyi told Besson that she was not yet ready to watch the two-hour film which covers the deaths of her father and her husband.

"She told me 'I'll see it when I'm courageous enough,'" he said earlier this month.

But one of her sons has seen it and "was very moved," the director added.

Besson said he had cried when he first read the script and immediately decided to make "The Lady".

"It's very moving when you look at this woman who is fighting for neither power nor money but so that her people can be free," he told AFP.

Matthew Warren (news.france@thelocal.com)

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