Michelle Yeoh, a Woman of Style
Tasa Nugraza Barley
Michelle Yeoh may portray one of Asia’s greatest freedom fighters in her latest film, but the Malaysian-born actress insists she doesn’t have a political bone in her body.
That said, she’s willing to lend her name to worthy causes, and is using her visit to Jakarta as part of the promotional tour for “The Lady” to pledge her support for Indonesian organizations doing their bit to improve the state of the world.
“I’m so happy to be in Jakarta for this wonderful movie, and to be part of a movie that tells the inspirational tale of Aung San Suu Kyi, who fought for democracy for her country,” the 49-year-old Yeoh told reporters on Sunday, ahead of the film’s Jakarta premiere. “The movie also includes a beautiful love story.”
Directed by France’s Luc Besson (“The Professional,” “The Fifth Element” and “Taken”) “The Lady” follows the relationship of Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris against the backdrop of political turmoil in totalitarian Burma.
Suu Kyi, Burma’s premier nonviolent freedom fighter, remains politically influential and is this weekend expected to be elected to the nation’s legislature.
Yeoh said it was an honor for her to play such an important political figure who is loved and admired by her people.
Yeoh reached worldwide fame as a Bond girl in the 1997 James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” alongside Hollywood stars including Pierce Brosnan and Teri Hatcher.
After that role, People magazine called Yeoh one of the most beautiful people in the world. A veteran of action films, Yeoh is also known for performing her own stunts.
But Yeoh’s claim to action fame came in 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” directed by Ang Lee.
Although she has been involved in several big budget and highly publicized movies before, Yeoh said “The Lady” is one of her most important roles to date, calling Suu Kyi an extraordinary role model for every woman in Asia. In fact, Suu Kyi is the first Asian woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But despite her admiration for the Burmese political figure and her passion for the film, Yeoh said politics did not interest her at all.
When asked if she would ever consider jumping into the political arena, she said: “Zero interest for politics.”
“The Lady” had its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was chosen as the opening film during the International Rome Film Festival a month later.
The film has earned positive reviews from movie critics and fans alike.
But Yeoh said the lead role was very challenging. She had to learn Burmese to play Suu Kyi, and had to lose nearly nine kilograms to make herself look more like her character.
Yeoh also had a taste of Burma’s tight control. The actress said she was deported multiple times by the Burmese government when she tried to meet Suu Kyi in person for research.
Yeoh’s trip to Jakarta spotlighted other causes dear to her. As a social activist and a green lifestyle advocate, Yeoh is lending her celebrity status to a fund-raising event jointly organized by the University of Indonesia’s Research Center for Climate Change, the Habibie Center and Studio 21 movie theater.
The proceeds raised at the event will be used to support the Karang Widya Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 2005 by Boston-based World Education to address the lack of skills and opportunities among Indonesian youths.
Located in Ciherang village in West Java’s Cianjur regency, the organization invites teenagers to join its four-month training camp “The Learning Farm.”
These at-risk teenagers mostly come from the streets, conflict areas and impoverished regions that have few employment opportunities.
So far the training program has had 12 sessions with more than 370 graduates coming from places including Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Lampung, Karawang, Bogor, Bandung, Bali, Lombok and Flores.
The program aims to create self-sufficient, capable and productive teenagers in their communities, where participants learn about organic farming and enterprise development.
Jatna Supriatna, head of the Research Center for Climate Change, said that the public should support the program as a creative way to help reduce the impact of the climate change in our lives.
“If these street children are taught about organic farming, they can help reduce the destruction of the environment, done in the name of greed,” he said.
Suu Kyi, he explained, could also serve as a role model for these Indonesian youths. “From her, we learn about the never-ending fight,” he said.
Yeoh echoed the sentiment by saying, “The world is in our hands.”