Article Title:Beautiful Boxer
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:22nd May 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:738
Text:BEAUTIFUL BOXER Dir: Ekachai Uekrongthom, Thailand, 2004, 35mm, 116mins You can just imagine how the Hollywood pitch meeting would have gone – "It's Rocky for trannies!" – but that would belittle the majesty of this wonderfully uplifting, action-packed and compassionate true story of the Thai kick-boxer who, as the tag-line appropriately puts it, fought like a man to become a woman. Nong Toom is the youngest of two boys growing up in a poor Thai village. Problem is, even from a very early age, Nong doesn't believe he is a boy. He identifies more with the petite dancing girls at the village festival than the vicious kick-boxers, much to his father's distress. But as fate would have it, Nong's co-ordination and strength beats his brother's hands down, and he ends up training to become a kickboxer after fluking a win as a ring-in opponent in a local village match. The attraction? The prize money available on the lucrative kick-boxing circuit. Perhaps, thinks Nong, I can earn enough money to take care of my family and have a life-transforming sex change operation. Listening to the basic plot mechanics laid out, it sounds like you have everything necessary for something from a John Waters nightmare, or at least, a cliche-ridden TV movie of the week. But this is a true story, told with sensitivity and grace. It's a coming-out and a coming of age story that stays entirely focussed on character. Told largely in flashback, it retains an idyllic and romantic quality without shying away from the hardships Nong endures on his journey to womanhood. Along the way, action is seamlessly integrated with more reflective passages, and Nong's interactions with family, friends and mentors. The boxing matches are expertly choreographed and executed, something you might expect knowing that the actor portraying Nong, Asanee Suwan, is a real-life kickboxer. What is extraordinary, though, is his portrayal of Nong. Suwan had no previous acting experience prior to Beautiful Boxer, but has managed to embrace his feminine side and portray the vast range of emotion required to make Nong a believable and lovable character that we want to see succeed. The film is also a first feature for director Ekachai Uekrongthom, who admits that he shared a commonly-held prejudice against transgendered people before taking on a story which he says is all about courage. He now encourages mainstream audiences to look beyond their own prejudices and view with an open mind. He says he came to a greater understanding of transgendered people through making the film, and it is an experience he is now able to share with this film, which has played to critical acclaim around the world, to both mainstream and GLBT audiences. Unlike Boys Don't Cry, which told a horrifying true story with all the subtlety of a fire extinguisher to the head, Beautiful Boxer shows us that, despite life's hardships, sometimes things do work out, if you never lose sight of your goals and have faith in your inner strength. Cereal packet wisdom, perhaps, but believe me – the film says it much better than I could in a review. Hopefully, Beautiful Boxer will return for a season at the cinema later in the year, but for now you have one chance left to see it at the Asia Film Festival in Auckland this Friday 27 May at the Academy. Chris Banks - 22nd May 2005    
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