As I write this, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi (the "Lady" of this movie's title) have just finished eating dinner together and discussing the slow, gradual political shift that's taking place in Burma. That's a big deal, since Burma hasn't been visited by any high ranking American official in over five decades.
There's a good reason for that. The dominant military regime of that state is one of the most oppressive and brutal in the world. Up until very recently, there were no public gatherings allowed, no elections and extreme human rights abuses including forced labor of adults and children, mass murders, rape and torture. Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party have stood in opposition to the government's tyranny for decades and she has been under house arrest for most of her time as a political presence in the country, like a Burmese Nelson Mandela. It's a great subject for a movie, unless it's one directed by Luc Besson.
This is a man more known for action films than stately biopics about Gandhi-like Burmese women, and he doesn't seem to know what to with a quiet drama where most of the activity involves Michelle Yeoh stuck in a house, so he follows the path laid out before in other movies exactly like it. Yeoh is shown accepting the genetic legacy left for her by her political martyr father Aung San -- the assassinated leader who is considered to be the father of modern Burma -- and taking on the mantle of leadership by the numbers, displaying great dignity but very little passion. In fact, at one point while discussing her flaws with husband, the Oxford Burma scholar Michael Aris (David Thewlis), she mentions her impatience and her "terrible temper," neither of which are ever on display. All you can guess from the moment is that the occasional shots of Yeoh demonstrating concern, the corner of her lips turned down, are meant to be her version of the Hulk Smash.
Obviously, Besson feels very strongly about raising the profile of this admirable, brave woman -- a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner -- and drawing attention to the horrible abuses that have gone on in Burma for so long, but the final product is so polite and reserved that it'll probably find its biggest audience among students whose teachers show it to them in social studies class. She's reduced to the status of a remote, saintly figure that they make bone-dry movies about and put meaningful U2 songs in, a person for whom a Google search would reveal more compelling information. I mean, they call her "The Steel Orchid," for crying out loud. Would it have killed them to show her getting even a little bit metal about something?