Beautiful Boxer

Just one shallow remark. It's hard to comprehend that such gentle female soul can coexist with such beautiful abs. That alone is a compelling reason to watch this movie.

Back in 2004, I gathered all my courage to go watch the cinema by myself  for the very first time (none of my friends would watch this movie with me) – a very daunting social experience for a highschooler. It was worth it. Six years later, a few days ago to be exact, SBS2 aired this movie, and I was reminded why it holds such a dear place in my heart, and I fell in love all over again.

I don’t know too much about Thailand, and I’ve only watched very few Thai movies. But one of the things (or stereotypes?) they’re famous for is the Lady Boys. A bit of mixed feelings here… but they’re always intriguing. Beautiful Boxer is about one of them.

It was a pretty simple story, but a remarkable one – and based on a true story, no less. Ever since Parinya Charoenphol, or Nong Toom could remember, she had always felt that she’s born in the wrong body of a boy. Quietly she would put on make-up, and dress up in girls’ clothes, and dream about being a true woman. Inadvertently she discovered her talent for kickboxing, and that became the only way to earn money for her family and perhaps… a sex change operation. A hard road, since it’s the most masculine sport ever – and she hated fights and violence.

It’s journey of self discovery as she learnt to appreciate Muay Thai – that it’s not simply a money-making tool but an art, commitment and dedication, and most importantly the courage to accept who she is and to become her own person. And indeed she got bolder and bolder – started to wear make-up on the ring, elaborate feminine accessories, and a shirt to cover her upper half, perform feminine moves for the ritual dance before matches, and kiss her defeated opponents as a way of saying sorry. How outrageous. This Lady Boy Boxer became an overnight sensation, reaching celebrity status, which undoubtedly made the media go crazy for a new animal circus, and led to cynical accusations of it all being a gimmick for personal gain and fame.

What’s so special about the movie is that it’s… sincere. The transgender issue was portrayed sensitively and with respect, I can’t help but root for Nong Toom as she grew into a more confident person, made friends, faced opponents and the media which constantly viewed her as a big mockery, and as her growing frustrations of being regarded as a clown got the better of her – she grew disgusted with the contrasting duality of the life she had. It was also really funny, what Nong Toom had to deal with… the messy, somewhat homophobic all-guy environment of the kickboxing training camp. The sudden all-star treatment and good-natured teasing she received from them as she got more and more famous. The abundance of money to buy any make up and any skin treatment regime she wished. Her more and more vivid urges and fantasies of being a beautiful woman adored by everyone.

Probably the fact that the real Nong Toom was so involved in the production also contributes a lot to the success of this movie. I don’t know shit about directing, but what I think is that movie’s deeply moving and poetic. Ambience effortlessly dances from lighthearted to bloodrushing to poignant. Fight scenes are beautiful and brutal (why of course, it’s Muay Thai). Colour is brilliantly psychedelic. Upon rewatching here are my few grumbles: the way events are laid out are very straightforward and simple. After a, b happens. After b, c happens etc. Also, a lack of interesting female characters – Nong Toom met so many female friends, all supporting of his transgender tendencies and treat him as one of their girlfriends? The actress playing Nong Toom’s mom’s far too young.

However, I didn’t really care because of the sheer brilliance, brilliance of the main actor. Without any reservations and male vanity, Asanee Suwan threw himself completely into playing Nong Toom, a woman trapped in a man’s body. He’s totally game. Such guts and dedication. His mannerisms, little facial and body gestures were spot on. And really quickly I acquired a soft spot for her him. When he fought though, he’s really cool. Strongly charismatic, so gracefully feminine but unexpectedly masculine at times, he’s also easy on the eyes to boot. It’s really hard to believe that he’s really a professional kickboxer and not an actor at all – he did spent a year to prepare for this role. And it’s interesting to note that he’s also sceptical to Nong Toom at first.

“Initially, I was suspicious of her. . . . I suspected that she was treating Muay Thai like a commercial project and that she was simply using it for self-promotion purposes. But then I watched her fight and knew right away how serious and dedicated she was. She was really strong and very good. It was then that I knew that I wanted to appear in a movie about Parinya.”

(from http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ff20051014i1.html)

Boy, Mr. Suwan, one day when you retire from the ring you’ll know what to do.

I still don’t think Beautiful Boxer’s a movie for everyone – albeit how charming and easy on the eyes it is. If you’re open-minded though… by all means. (9/10)

Asanee posing with the real Nong Toom. I have a feeling he's thinking, "Ha! Now my chance to look as manly as possible!"

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About toopai
part time couch potato, full time movie and drama enthusiast.

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