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By James Wegg | February 15, 2005

Ekacahi Uekrongtham’s début feature is a beautifully shot chronicle of the trials, tribulations and watery makeup days that face all transvestites trying to earn the cash for their transgender surgery while labouring in Thailand’s kick boxing industry.
Based on the true story of Parinya Charoenphol, the screenplay (Uekrongtham and Desmond Sim Kim Jin) becomes a wonderful metaphor for the importance of becoming who we really are (Karma withstanding) so that whatever time we have on the planet reflects our personal truth, not the convenience of the “moral” majority.
Asanee Suwan’s portrayal of Nong Thoom is nothing short of spectacular. Like the real boy-soprano Jean-Baptiste Maunier’s talent in The Chorus (cross-reference below), this real-life kick boxer flies through the many action sequences with skill and grace. He also has the boyish/girlish good looks and demeanour to wear makeup, jewels, and tasselled arm bands with poise, flair and style.
His younger counterparts (Sarawuth Tangchit – as a boy; Natee Pongsopol – as a novice monk) are equally convincing in their unabashed understanding of the feminine soul trapped within the male form. “I’m not a boy,” he insists with knowledge beyond his years. But living in an impoverished family, he unexpectedly discovers that the road to fame and fortune─and the operation he so desperately craves─must be littered with defeated opponents in the boxing ring. The similarity between their blood and his ruby lipstick is striking, especially when kissing his vanquished on the cheek “to say I’m sorry – in the ring you have to hurt strangers.”
Trainer Pi Chart (Sorapong Chatree) puts his young warriors through their paces and Choochart Nantitanyatada’s camera captures their transformation from awkward sucker punch victims to near-balletic interpreters of murderous choreography that enables the most beautiful proponent to destroy his/her opponent with dispatch.
And this is where the film soars: the gruelling repetition of hundreds of sit-ups (with sympathetic abdominal beatings to add extra strength) providing the framework for the intercuts of arm, leg and foot regimens that, once the basics have been mastered, equip the students with the physical skills necessary to begin the real art of learning to “kick with your head.” On several occasions the well-honed bodies strut their stuff in silhouette, producing exquisite images of the “corps” in action.
Throughout it all, Thoom gains confidence in his inner-self even as his male outer shell is toughened for the ring. On the way he has a hilariously honest moment when a buddy-paid-for prostitute reveals her ample breasts and encourages the virgin to “show me yours,” to which, without missing a beat, he replies, “I don’t have them yet.” With such a mature presentation of the joy and the fear pulsing though the majority of scorned young beings, Beautiful Boxer jumps far ahead of the pack of other “coming out films” that seem content with the cheap laugh and an army of stereotypical characters.
The sub-plots of Chart’s sweat-shop induced illness and his faithful friend, Nat’s (Sitiporn Niyom) betrayal for cash add a cup of variety but little narrative depth. Yet those weaknesses are balanced by some subtle touches including the Anaconda’s (Samnuan Sangpali) pulverized head landing squarely in Thoom’s crotch as the mocking opponent collapses in defeat: another bully gets his reward.
From the Ave Maria-like opening bars accompanying the physical transformation from male to female, through the heady drums of battle, Amombhong Methakunbudh’s music is also a major component of the film’s success.
Beautiful Boxer is a magical vision of the ring of the imagination, where anything is possible if the top of the seemingly impossible staircase of self acceptance can be reached.

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