I suppose many non-Thai action film fans have their first exposure to the Thai martial arts of Muay Thai through movies like Ong Bak or Tom Yum Goong, both starring Tony Jaa. But the Muay Thai scene in Thailand was set abuzz in the 90s when transvestite warrior Nong Toom took to the stage and battled it out with other gladiators, while at the same time battled the prejudice he faced because he was different. Nong Toom was big at one time, with many media around the world following his exploits, as he wore makeup into the ring, and planted kisses on his defeated opponents.
Beautiful Boxer is director Ekachai Uekrongtham's first feature film (he also did the movie about our Geylang scene with Pleasure Factory), and the movie is a biography of Nong Toom (played by real kickboxer Asanee Suwan) and his dream of being a woman. Born to poverty and without means to fulfill his dream, he takes on the sport of Muay Thai for its lucrative awards, in part to provide for his family, and also as a means to save up for his sex change operation. His coach Pi Chart (Sorapong Chatree) sees the potential of his protege, and while he doesn't chide Nong Toom for his feminine ways, had only one request, that he fights like a man in the ring.
Similar to various fight sports biopics like Rocky and Cinderella Man, Beautiful Boxer charts the ups and downs of the protagonist, except that it ups the ante with Nong Toom's personal struggles, which present themselves as a bigger challenge with prejudice and misconceptions to fight, instead of the usual fight-against-poverty storyline. And like the movies in the genre, the battle in the ring is a sight to behold, as they get choreographed expertly, yet maintain a romantic, sexy look at the form of the sport. While Nong Toom does battle with various exponents, the filmmakers took great pains to ensure the fights differ from battle to battle, to make it interesting to watch without being repetitive, and we do see certain ancient moves that we've yet to see with the Tony Jaa movies.
Asanee Suwan, a first time actor who auditioned for and gotten the role of Nong Toom, played the character with great earnestness, and was extremely convincing in his role as a man who struggles to find a way to bring the inner woman out in him. He made Nong Toom very humane, and you can really feel his pain and triumphs in and outside the ring. Nong Toom in any case was an interesting person to begin with, especially the way he handles discrimination. There were many poignant moments in his story from childhood, and what I thought was quite affecting was how he had to fend for himself in the ring especially - Fighters will find it a lost of face if they lose to someone "less than a man", and this led to fighting Nong Toom more intensely, which of course made Nong Toom fight back even harder. While he couldn't do much about people laughing at him, he had to learn to feed off these negative energy to spur him on to win.
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. Look out too for a cameo by the real Nong Toom (now known as Parinaya Charoemphol after his sex-change operation). It brought to mind an adage which I shall paraphrase - the person might be different, but the struggles faced are the same.
You can read more about Nong Toom from the Wikipedia site.
Code 1 DVD from TLA Releasing comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation, and the visual transfer looked to be relatively soft and less than sharp. You have a choice of either 5.1 or 2.0 stereo sound, both in the original Thai language track, with optional English subtitles which can be turned on. Scene selection is available in 14 chapters.
There are quite a bit of features packed into the DVD, but most of which could have been better presented. The Director's Message was a two page text which shared a little on the making of the movie, and there is a Theatrical Trailer (2:09) and two Teaser Trailers (1:00 each) included.
Interviews with Cast and Crew was subtitled in English, but the presentation was very segmented with many pauses in between to continuously inform you who was being interviewed. It's usually one statement, pause, another statement, pause, and repeat. Much of the 11:24 runtime was wasted on these unnecessary pauses which could have been done away with given proper editing of this feature. Interviewees include the director Ekachai Uekrongtham, lead actor Asanee Suwan, actors Sorapong Chatree, Sitiporn Niyom (who plays Nat), and Keagan Kang, whose segment had audio-visual synchronization problems. Fight Choreographer Sanae Tuptimtong also gets interviewed, and you'll find out more about Muay Thai from him.
Inside Beautiful Boxer is a making of documentary running 4:17, most of which covers the audition to find the appropriate actor to play Nong Toom, and how Asanee Suwan was tasked to practice ballet and traditional Thai dance to get in touch with his feminine side. Behind The Scenes Fight Footage was just a collection of on-set visuals for the various fight scenes with nary any explanation. Fights included are Nong Toom vs Yamada, Nong Toom vs Anaconda, Nong Toom vs Ramba (the fake girly fighter), Nong Toom vs Kyoko, Nong Toom and Boxing Coach, and Nong Toom vs Battlefield. There's nothing much to show in this 5:44 feature.
Two Music Videos are included. One is "The Girl I Knew" (the theme track you get to hear throughout the movie) performed by Asanee Chotikul (3:32) and the other is "Who's The Man Here" performed by Mai Charoenpura (4:24). Both comes with English subtitles so that you understand the lyrics sung, and more interestingly, comes with karaoke-styled presentation as well.
Rounding off the features are three Trailers for other gay, lesbian and transgender movies - Naked Flame (2:07), Straight-Jacket (2:17) and Sex, Politics and Cocktails (1:53).