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One subject that has fascinated me ever since my late late teens has been Transexuality. Not for any kinky reasons, mind you, but because the prospect of a future world where one's sex can be altered, with perfection, at one's wish, is something that i find fascinating. There is much debate about life sciences, genetics, and this types of things, and it really scares a lot of people of course as for them, those things spell the end of civilization and our society. Well, fine. It's a free country and everyone is entitled to their opinions. No matter though, those things are happening, and can't be ignored, or simply "banned". Today, Transexualiy is achieved through gross cosmetic tricks. It's the appearance of a sex that is altered, and not the sex itself. But one day, i do not see why the actual genetic sex could not be altered in some way. Imagine a world where sex is no longer something fixed at birth, and where strange combinations are dreamed up. Men could remain men but have babies, women can have male organs and still be able to reproduce, and of course, the current brand of cross-genderism where men are made to just look like woman, and vice-versa. But of course, this concept would not be limited to sex, although i believe it to be the most interesting because it deeply affects how the human race reproduces itself and therefore has deeper consequences than any other type of genetic changes. But imagine the same concept around race, or other aspects of visible human attributes. What if it is one day possible to genetically alter the color of your eyes, or your hair permanently? And what if blond, red and black and shades in between are not the only possible hair colors? How about skin? The way one looks, one's sex, becomes a design effort, a greater self-expression, and no longer a constraint. Aliens are amongst us... Oh wait a minute, aliens will be us! A human being as a genetic work of intended design, or art.
Oh! Am i diverging way out there? OK, back to the film. So, as i was saying, i have been fascinated by Transexuality for a long time, and when i heard about the real story of a Thai man who had become the number one Thai Boxing fighter in the world only to raise enough money in order to get a sex change operation, i was really intrigued. Beautiful Boxer is a movie that tells that story, with great details and unexpected sweetness. This is absolutely not an exploitative movie and instead focuses on the human element, and the sport and the traditions that surround it. Nong Toom (Asanee Suwan) is a young man with a secret. Since he was a kid, he always thought something was wrong with him and that in fact, he was a woman. As he grew up, he discovered he had a talent for the traditional Thai boxing and decided to start training and become number one, so that he could make some good money, pay for a sex change operation, and become Parinya Charoenphol.
This is a Thai movie, and you may not have heard about it, but Thailand, along with Brazil and the Philippines, is a country where there is a strong Transexual culture. The concept is somewhat more readily accepted by society at large than in the rest of the world, but it doesn't mean that it is all fine either. For sample, in Thailand, it is believed that transexuals are women who have behaved badly in a previous life and who, as a punishment, have been re-incarnated in a man's body. Sexual confusion as a divine punishment is a fascinating concept in and of itself. Nevertheless, Transexuals do enjoy a much more peaceful life in those countries than in Europe or the US where they are generally completely marginalized from the mainstream society, often violently. The idea of an openly transexual-wanna-be ascending to the top of a sport discipline and being loved by the masses is quite foreign from a cultural point of view. This is something you'd definitely would not see here in the US or in Europe.
What makes this movie really accessible to main audiences is that the story is really about a man overcoming many odds in order to accomplish what he had set to accomplish. Yes, the goal may seem strange to many, but conceptually, the drive, discipline and strength that Nong Toom displays is something to look up to. And it is all told with a lot of innocence. Additionally, any action aficionado will appreciate the fighting sequences that are really well done. From a Sports point of view, the movie invariably will remind you of such fares as the Rocky or Karate Kid movies. The formula is pretty standard, and you even get the obligatory Montage. One little quibble i have is that the movie glosses too quickly over the main character's sexuality. Based on what the movie shows, this guy is really asexual and the film doesn't explore at all what he does behind closed doors. Maybe this was done in an effort to make the movie more accessible and definitely PG-13. On the other hand. I can't help but feel that this omission is a big weakness in the film because you miss what is potentially an important part of this person. This reason alone prevents me from giving a 5 rating to the Writing. I understand the choice, but it makes the film incomplete in my opinion.
Performance-wise, Asanee Suwan, himself a high-ranking professional Thai kickboxer, is fabulous. Just the fact that someone in his position took the role is another sign of the power of this story in Thailand, and the general acceptance of Transexuals in that society. Not only does he land credibility to all the training and fighting sequences, but he is also able to convey a lot of emotions, determination and genuine goodness. You cannot but help developing a lot of respect for the character, and his performance is definitely part of it. On other aspects, the film is also beautifully shot, with great colors, great sets, especially the vast arenas, and great costumes and makeup. I have seen several Thai movies in the past few years, and this is definitely one of the best ones, with great overall production value and a clean look. The only other i can think of is the amazing The Legend Of Suriyothai.
Beautiful Boxer is a very interesting movie in that it takes a fairly controversial story, especially from a Western point of view, but packages it in a format that is very much in the tradition of many American Sport movies. It's a traditional story of a man, wanting to achieve something, and overcoming incredible odds to make it. What makes this movie different of course is the cultural shift. Being a Thai movie, people behave differently from American people. What seems outrageous to us is not so outrageous for them. The cultural elements in this film are very strong, not only for the main story about this man wanting to become a woman, but also very much about the history and culture of Muaythai boxing. If you are not turned off by the subject matter, even if it is treated completely at a PG-13 level, you will enjoy the characters, the story, and all the history you get from this film. The movie was released in the theaters as a limited release early in the summer 2005 and is already out on DVD.
- Laurent Hasson