It was my privilege to attend the Malaysian premiere of “The Lady” at Kinta City’s TGV theatres on the night of April 23. The event was attended by a veritable Who’s Who of Ipoh’s elite and on hand to meet and greet the guests was Janet Yeoh, whose charm and grace made everyone feel welcome.
The film, of course, stars Ipoh’s iconic international film star Datuk Michelle Yeoh who fulfilled a long time desire to portray Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel laureate who also has the distinction of being the first woman in Asia to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Michelle made a brief appearance to introduce the film and dedicate the evening to her family and friends on hand explaining that prior commitments had prevented her from attending her mother’s birthday celebration several days before. She is currently working on a new film in Bangkok. In describing the challenges of playing the role of Suu Kyi she relayed to the audience how she had to learn to speak Burmese and shed almost 8 kg.
“The Lady” which is set against the backdrop of decades of political strife and military oppression in Burma is as much an epic love story between Suu Kyi and her British husband Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis) as it is a commentary on the Burmese people’s goals to achieve democracy and political freedom. Suu Kyi and her husband are forced to endure years of separation and personal sacrifices in support of her determination to bring about political change in her beloved Burma. Most poignant is Michael’s love and devotion and unending support of Suu Kyi amidst all the turmoil.
I have seen most of Michelle Yeoh’s English language films and in my opinion, this is by far her best role to date. She is captivating and very believable in her portrayal of her character Suu Kyi and makes this film a must-see. Be forewarned though, you should bring a supply of tissues as you will surely be brought to tears at certain points in the movie.
Michelle Yeoh also informed the audience that the KL premiere is on April 25 and will be attended by the Prime Minister.
Ipoh’s own Hollywood star, Bond-girl Michelle Yeoh, is tipped for an Oscar in the movie ‘The Lady’, about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader, to be screened at the Venice Film Festival this August.
Suu Kyi, who heads her party, The National League for Democracy (NLD), is also a Nobel Peace laureate. At the 1990 general elections, the NLD scored an outright landslide victory.
It was Suu Kyi’s personal sacrifice and her defence of human rights that has made her an iconic symbol for the Burmese people in their struggle for freedom.
Her father was Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, when Suu Kyi was just two years old. Suu Kyi spent her early years studying in Burma and India, and it was during her student years in Oxford University, that she met her husband, Michael Aris, the Tibet Scholar.
Struggle for Democracy
When she came home to Burma in 1988 to nurse her sick mother, she became involved in her nation’s struggle for democracy. She witnessed the military regime quell the famous 8-8-88 uprising, by the Burmese people, when 5,000 demonstrators were killed.
The NLD was formed after the military coup in September 1988 and Suu Kyi was appointed its General Secretary. She travelled the country giving numerous speeches demanding freedom and democracy but attracted the attention of the authorities and her freedom was curtailed.
She spent over 15 years being incarcerated, most of it under house arrest under laws which allow for detention without charge or trial.
The NLD was triumphant in the general election of 1990 but victory was brushed aside by the military junta. The junta is still in power.
Mass Appeal Unabated
Last November, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. The government-owned newspaper ‘The New Light of Burma’, which is published by the Ministry of Information, has said that the government’s Ministry of Home Affairs warned Suu Kyi that her political activities were tantamount to breaking the law.
A report said, “If they really want to accept and practise democracy effectively, they are to stop such acts that can harm peace and stability and the rule of law as well as the unity among the people including monks and service personnel.”
The military junta is fearful of the 66-year-old’s influence and her ability to sway the crowds. Even after years of detention, Suu Kyi’s mass appeal has not abated and international support for her is equally strong and popular.
Michelle Yeoh, our local heroine is no less popular in both Malaysian and international circles. Her action-thrillers, her Bond-girl role and her ability to perform the stunts in her movies have all added to her super-star status.
Her movies, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, have achieved universal acclaim.
Michelle paid a visit to Suu Kyi last December for the film which is directed by Luc Besson. ‘The Lady’ is a portrayal of the romance between Michael Aris and Suu Kyi, which is also shaped by political turmoil, her personal sacrifice and the suffering of her people. Scenes were shot in UK and France with the main shoot conducted in Thailand. The movie is slated to be released in October 2011.
Touched by the tenderness in the film, Michelle added: “More important for me is that people should know her story because unfortunately I think a lot of people have forgotten or don’t really understand what was going on because it’s been 20 years”.
In the month of June, Malaysia saw turmoil: its own people have placed a demand for freedom of another kind; Freedom from dirty politics and dirty election practices.
How ironic that Michelle Yeoh was banned from entering Burma and deported by the military junta. On her arrival in Burma on June 22, she was detained and despatched on the next flight out of Rangoon. A Burmese official was reported to have told Reuters that Michelle had been on the government blacklist.
Perhaps Malaysia and Burma have more in common than being ASEAN members; Two women, two countries, one type of struggle. One lives the life of hardship, the other portrays it. Make no mistake, there are other differences. It just depends how one looks at things.