Luc Besson's latest directorial effort is titled The Lady, a biopic of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently announced that the political party she originally founded in 1988, the National League for Democracy, will register to take part in upcoming elections in Burma. Suu Kyi, now aged 66, re-enters politics almost one year to the day after her release from house arrest in November 2010.
The Lady, a Europa Corp/Left Bank Pictures production, will open in France on November 30 2011. The anticipated feature film premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and stars Malaysian Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh as Suu Kyi. Filmed in the English language, The Lady began production in 2008, two years before Suu Kyi's release from house arrest on November 13th 2010; she had been detained for a total of 15 years.
Written by British writer/director Rebecca Frayn, The Lady depicts the assassination of Suu Kyi's father Aung San in 1947. Suu Kyi was two years old. Aung San founded the Communist Party of Burma and today is regarded as a national hero who helped achieve Burma's independence from British colonial rule in the same year as his death. Suu Kyi's mother, Khin Kyi was also involved in politics and notably held the position of Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960. Suu Kyi herself would enter politics after being awarded a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Oxford, working for the United Nations in New York in the early 1970s.
Whilst at Oxford University, Suu Kyi met Michael Aris, an academic who specialised in Tibetan culture, who she would marry in 1972. They would set up home in England, raising their two sons, however Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, to care her ailing mother. Whilst in Burma, General Ne Win, the head of the then ruling party, the Burma Socialist Programme Party, which had seized power in 1962, resigned. Suu Kyi then formed the National League for Democracy in 1988. During the 1990 Burmese General Election, the National League for Democracy won 392 out of 492 seats in Parliament, but the results were rejected and she was placed under house arrest on July 20th 1989 by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military regime of Burma. Suu Kyi would be released from house arrest 21 years later on November 13th 2010.
Whilst The Lady depicts Suu Kyi political struggles in detail, the feature film also delves into Suu Kyi's personal life, in particular how the detention affected her family for two decades. It is reported that once Suu Kyi was detained and placed under house arrest, Aris had seen his wife only five times. Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and died on March 27 1999, his 53rd birthday. Aris would last see his wife in 1995.
The Lady is very much a love story, as it is a depiction of one woman's fight for Burma's freedom. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, continues to be a powerful and influential figure, not just in Burma but worldwide. Besson's interest in this somewhat politically sensitive feature film, may seem like an unlikely fit for the French writer/director, who is best known for directing Le grand bleu (1988) and The Fifth Element (1997), but he has long had a fascination with strong independent female characters, as depicted in Nikita (1990), Joan of Arc (1999) and most recently Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010). In fact, in 1997, in an interview with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose, Besson declared "[Women] have the possibility to give life … so they maybe have a better a sense of what life means … they can be strong and protect a country, they have a kind of little sense about what it means to build a life."
In Suu Kyi, it appears Besson has found a true inspirational modern day heroine, a woman who has come symbolise Burma's hope for a new democracy and whose political journey is now, just beginning.