Love is Aung San Suu Kyi's Weapon of Mass Construction

Luc Besson and Michelle Yeoh on what makes 'The Lady'

Michelle Yeoh and Luc Besson discuss the film The Lady (2011). (9 min., 56 sec.)
Highlights: Michelle Yeoh and Luc Besson discuss the film The Lady (2011). (9 min., 56 sec.)
(Photo: C. Bay Milin)

NEW YORK, December 11, 2011 — During the Q&A following the screening of The Lady (2011), a new film based on the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader, director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element; La Femme Nikita) and actress Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) shared their experiences and thoughts on the making of the film. The discussion was moderated by Asia Society Film Curator La Frances Hui.

Drawing heavily on Suu Kyi's personal life, the film portrays the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's relationship with her husband and children and the tremendous sacrifice the family has made for the cause of Burma's democracy. Besson explained that as a filmmaker there was nothing he could add to the subject of Burmese politics given that so much information is readily available in the media. He is, however, mostly interested in what is deep inside this slightly-built woman who possesses the strength to fight the Burmese military. "Her weapon is basically love because she loves her country, loves her husband, loves her children. That's the only weapon of mass construction that she has," said the director.

During the lively discussion, Besson also talked about having to shoot mostly in Thailand, due to the sensitive nature of the film; the use of non-professional Burmese actors recruited from a refugee camp; the undercover shoots that took place in Burma; and the successful plea he made to 6000 extras to keep the subject of the production a secret.

Yeoh also shared the work behind making her breakthrough performance. In order to prepare herself for the role, the actress lost up to eight kilos, learned the Burmese language, studied footage of Suu Kyi to acquire the way she speaks, her deportment and nuances. But Yeoh emphasized that it was not simply an impersonation. After all, "it's really what's going on behind her eyes" that matters, explained the actress.

In response to Hui's question about meeting Suu Kyi in person, Besson said that it took him 20 seconds to forget about the film that he had been working on for two years. "She's the real thing. I forgot the film. I was just meeting one of the most wonderful women I had ever met… She had so much peace in her. She wouldn't say one single bad word about the people who had been abusing her for 20 years. It's a lesson just to be next to her," said the director.

Yeoh expressed hope that this film could raise awareness and inspire audiences to support Suu Kyi’s cause. "If we can achieve democracy in a non-violent way, it will be a great step for humanity for all of us,” said the actress.

The screening of The Lady was presented by Ang Lee, Asia Society, Open Society Foundations and Human Rights Watch. Film programs at the Asia Society are supported, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts.