Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Producer: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Cast: Asanee Suwan, Sorapong Chatree, Orn-Anong Panyawong, Kyoko Inoue, Sitiporn Niyom, Yuka Hyodo, Keagan Kang, Nukkid Boonthong
Running Time: 114 min.
An arthouse alternative to Ong Bak, Beautiful Boxer is a powerful, emotional, and riveting saga of an ordinary person named Nong Toom who takes up Muy Thai in order to fight in tournaments and get the money needed for a sex change operation. Raised in a poor nomadic family, Toom discovers his fascination with wearing make-up and women’s clothing at a young age. His family grudgingly accepts his new lifestyle, but they learn to love and appreciate him again when he helps them during their financial hardships. And through his family, Toom discovers his untapped potential at Muy Thai.
Despite his initial abhorrence of the violence in the sport, certain graceful movements which can only be taught to pros motivate him to continue the program. In fact, the make-up eventually becomes an asset, instead of a liability, because his trainer needs a gimmick to enter the top Muy Thai tournament in Thailand, and so he hypes Toom’s feminine ensemble. Ironically, however, Toom’s formidable skill is downplayed by audiences disgusted by his choice of fashion; and he’s ridiculed and ostracized by his own countrymen for his appearance. With nowhere else to go, he’s eventually forced to duke it out in Japan, where the women consider him a hot item. But by then, he’s burned out from fighting.
While Beautiful Boxer could’ve been just an ordinary boxing biopic, it actually does more than that by exploring sexual values and roles in Thai culture. In addition, you get a detailed insider’s view into the world of Muy Thai combined with gorgeous costumes and lush settings. ( Even a run-down shack looks glorious against a serene but majestic backdrop. Eat your heart out, Peter Pau!) But the performances are what really make it come together. Full of energy and realism, it’s easy to connect with the actors through the emotions that come with the triumphs and tragedies experienced by the protagonists. (In fact, I almost got teary-eyed in a few key scenes which would be Oscar bait if BB could compete.)
The only reason I didn’t give Beautiful Boxer a 10 is that I don’t feel the filmmakers delve deep enough into Toom’s childhood, and some of the fights go by too fast to catch, but neither issue affects the narrative. So unlike a certain American boxing movie featuring a chick with an overbite who can’t really box, but which cops out by making her kill herself, Beautiful Boxer delivers. It’s a shame it’s already two years old, because it deserves to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It’s that good.
Ningen’s Rating: 9.5/10