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Beautiful Boxer (THAI 1999)

Director : Ekachai Uekron
Cast : Asanee Suwan, Sorapong Chatree, Orn-Anong Panyawong, Nukkid Boonthong, Sitiporn Niyom, Kyoko Inoue and Keagan Kang.

Based on the real life story of Parinya Charoenphol (Nong Toom), a Muaythai boxer who underwent a sex change operation to become a woman. The movie chronicles her life from a young boy who likes to wear lipstick and wear flowers to her sensational career as kickboxer whose specialty is ancient Muaythai boxing moves which she can execute expertly with grace and finally her confrontation with her own sexuality which led to her sex change op.

by Edward Tang

“He fights like a man so he can become a woman”

Surely enough, that is the first time that has been used to explain a boxing film. Usually boxing films are associated with heroes overcoming the odds and becoming a success. Most of the time, you’ve got a very macho guy who kicks a bunch of ass and gets ass in return from lovely ladies. We do a 360 here about a guy who wants to become a woman, with the money he makes in his fights. “Beautiful Boxer” is based on the true story of Nong Toom (Parinya Charoenphol) and shows that Thailand has some promise. The story is pretty much basic but for a first time director this is solid gold. The fights look good, the characters are typical but still appealing and the message is simple. Truly the shining star of this film belongs to Asanee Suwan who is a real kickboxer and a first time actor. To really connect with his feminine side (REALLY connect) and to have never acted before, the guy is fantastic just like this movie.

I’m really surprised about how Nong Toom had support from his family throughout his journey through life. Most films like this usually express that the family doesn’t approve of such activities and they eventually disown him or her. They don’t so much do that in this film, but they feel what all parents do if thrown into this situation. Nong Toom’s life is very much a secret starting as a child. He enjoyed things that normal boys didn’t, makeup and hanging out with girls. But the good thing about Nong is that he was just a pure person. When his family got into a bind with money and in trouble with the law, the kid was seven or eight when he started working. That’s sort of the way he got into kickboxing, a support for himself and his family. Nong hid his true feelings for a while, but they got out when his trainer spotted him.

Nong then began to wear his makeup in the ring, and became a controversy, being booed and made fun for being who he truly was. But he wasn’t a pushover, he kicked the shit out of everyone in this flick, but it never seemed like he cared about things like that. He was always serious about becoming a woman, and when he began to take hormone pills, he was labeled a woman and banned from boxing. He later went to Japan to fight a woman, and realized what he had become. Sure he was being himself, but the exposure made him look like a guy pretending to do this for the publicity. The final act includes him finally getting his sex change and achieving what he always wanted. He didn’t want to fight, nor hurt people but in doing so he did achieve what was necessary.

I must say that the film isn’t the best edited out there. But for a first time director, points are hit out all over the place. A few scenes involve a mysterious woman, we don’t know until we watch the final scenes. This woman was the personality of Toom, the person whom he really wanted to be. But we even learn that when he does become a woman, he didn’t want to loose his male side either. There’s a scene which involves every faze of his existence, from a small child to the woman he has become. It’s a well shot film for sure, but scenes could have been improved. But I must say that the kickboxing scenes looked good and had that harsh nature about them. Even scenes that made you cheer out, when Toom’s friend tells him that his mother is dying and needs the money from the fight, Toom wants to help his friend. We learn later that his mom died a month earlier and he was just scamming Toom for the money. The only scenes that sucked were the ones that involved anybody speaking in English, which seemed a little corny. Man did I hate that American dude who played the reporter.

This story is about Toom finding who he is in a series of events. Though his goal is to be a woman, being a man was completely necessary to achieve this goal. If he hadn’t, he might never have saved up the money for the surgery. Asanee Suwan is perfectly cast in this role. Imagine not acting once and then basically owning a film, in which you will eventually be awarded with the best actor. His simple take to a character made the film work. Spending almost a year, trying to make this character work shows his true dedication to this story. I didn’t see many other characters that really stood out, most of them were typical. There was another transsexual, which seemed a little forced more than anything, I don’t know if it was real or not. Suwan’s performance makes this work, without him, I doubt it would have been as good.

Today, Toom is a model/actress. The decision was obviously worth it, and the message is simple. Be yourself. The film shows this in basics, Toom didn’t run away from any problems faced, he kicked them in their f*ckin’ head. It isn’t the best film of all time, but is a nice contrast after hearing nothing but Tony Jaa praise out of Thailand. It’s good to hear that they can dish out films that actually are worth the price of admission. What I got from this film was a sense of destiny and perseverance, someone who learned that even things that seem wrong to people, can serve a purpose and even help someone achieve a goal that at first seemed to far to even grasp at.

It’s a shame that Beautiful Boxer has been out for two years, when it should have gotten so much more attention. The story is simple and the message follows just as simply. Asanee Suwan is the man, and hopefully does something else (he’s only appeared in this), because he could have some future in films. I was impressed by this film, and hopefully I can see more from the director soon. I’m usually not a fan of such films and I really enjoyed it. Great flick that sadly didn’t get the world-wide treatment it deserved.
Plot : 3/5
Acting : 3/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 3/5

Notable Scenes
- The kickboxing scenes

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Beautiful Boxer

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