Gays in this country may not enjoy all the privileges George W. Bush’s right-wing cronies do, but they can be thankful that they don’t have to live in places where gay rights advocacy is still in its infancy. Though Thailand is ahead of neighbors like China and Vietnam in this respect, there’s still much work to be done, which is why a film like Beautiful Boxer can be forgiven for feeling as if it were telegraphed from a time when Flip Wilson’s Geraldine Jones was all the craze on American network television. Ekachai Uekrongtham’s feature, based on real-life Muaythai boxing sensation Parinya Charoenphol and the sex-reassignment surgery she had at the height of her fame, is by turns cheesy and wearisomely straightforward, but is also surprisingly moving, something that can’t be said about Iron Ladies, another Thai box office sensation that chronicled a gender-bending controversy in the country’s sports world. Pestered by a reporter for an interview, Parinaya (Asanee Suwan) narrates the story of her life in cloyingly drawn-out and broken English, from the moment little Nong Toom realized he wanted to be a girl to his Rocky-style rise to fame on the sport’s scene. The birth of Parinya’s gender struggle is Freudian to the nth degree (at a carnival, Nong’s fascination with a flower in a girl’s hair is linked to a kickboxing battle and a nearby beauty pageant), but Uekrongtham evokes the confusion as a magical-realist pageantry of clashing cultural and sexual signifiers. (There’s plenty of naked male flesh in the film, which Uekrongtham reveres sensually and spiritually but not sexually—it’s an important distinction because the shape of the human body comes to torture Nong/Parinaya until he settles on one physical human form.) Other sequences, from the battles between Nong and his homophobic opponents to the boy’s tug-of-wars with his family, have a sweet and woozy quality about them, which makes some of the more strenuous imagery (Parinaya waits for a bus at the end of the film alongside younger versions of herself) and intermittent pull-quote dialogue (“Kickboxing’s all about being fierce!”) easier to swallow. And speaking of swallowing: Nong/Parinaya is never given a love interest in the film, a wise decision that intensifies the loneliness of her physical and spiritual crisis and helps to extend the film’s critical reach, which targets the media for making Parinaya into an animal in a circus show.
- Regent Releasing
- 118 min
- Ekachai Uekrongtham
- Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha
- Asanee Suwan, Sorapong Chatree, Orn-anong Panyawong, Sitiporn Niyom, Keagan Kang, Nukkid Boonthong, Somsak Tuangmkuda, Tonyabuth Songsakul, Sarawuth Tangchit, Natee Pongsopol
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