Beautiful Boxer is from Thailand, and it is a true story and an astonishing one at that. Played by real-life kick-boxer Asanee Suwan, she isn’t intimidated by the cocky swagger of the shower room or weigh-in. Oh, I am getting ahead of myself here. She should be phazed by it because the boxer we follow is actually a teenage transvestite who somewhat reluctantly kickboxes his way to fame and fortune. 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 operation. It makes for a very exciting, funny and moving story.
It really is an uplifting film. In one scene, once she goes public, she has to endure savage taunting in particular, one competitor apes him by also wearing makeup and swishing around the ring. Toom tells him that ‘girls like you give girls like me a bad name’. It is perfect comedic timing but at the same time makes for a powerful scene. It converges the two streams of his life, glamour and combat, and raising questions about the overlap of these distinct forms of display. The pacing is a little sluggish and the director treats his subject too reverently, but, Beautiful Boxer has won two Thai ‘Oscars’ and has since won another 10 film awards around the world, for the honest and very in-depth portrayal of a young kickboxer.
The film provides a window into Muay Thai boxing, both its beauty and violence, the socio-economic conditions in Thailand, and aspects of Thai culture. Under less sensitive eyes and minds this story could have become audacious, but instead the film elects to be sensitive to the transsexual conviction that Nong Toom is a woman trapped in a man’s body, and it is the journey of self acceptance and personal victory that makes the story so deeply touching. I don’t know how accepting people would be here in the United States with a transsexual boxer fighting in makeup. I felt sorry for her, however, when she fought the Japanese professional wrestler because it seemed like more of publicity stunt than a real fight which I think hurt her reputation with the people. I am eager to see more from director Ekachai Uekrongtham. His blend of realism and symbolism makes for a poetic visual literature.
All in all, I love the way this movie portrays Thai culture and the warmth and love between the mother and son. I believe that the mother was responsible for being able to keep Toom strong and confident enough to be able to become a fighter. It is constantly entertaining and full of fun, without appearing shallow. I hope that those who watch the film think of the many who can’t earn it, win it, steal it, or stumble on the funds needed. If Beautiful Boxer can make people think about that, it’s a public service film. One must define his/her life from what it’s in their heart and not for what someone else’s vision about ourselves. Director Ekachai Uekrongtham vision really gives us a glimpse into life of someone that dares to confront his true self unto a world that’s not ready for change. It’s a movie that works on both the emotional level and the physical side with its fight action sequence, and one of the better sports-fight biopics I have seen. Beautiful Boxer is a trip to Thailand well worth taking.