hero of the Thai film Beautiful Boxer is Nong Toom, a
longing to be a woman. He is tortured by this wish — it drives him
endlessly. He is defined by it. His singleness of purpose is
ridiculous, and ultimately, so is the film’s. See, what makes Nong
Toom special is that he’s not only a transvestite, he’s a professional
boxer. He even wears makeup in the ring. But not to worry, Hilary
Swank, this Million Dollar Baby ain’t got nothin’ on you.
begins with shots of Toom preparing for a match, interspersed with
footage of him putting on women’s clothing. It’s a sign of what lies
ahead. Over the next two hours, that trick of cutting back and forth
between Toom fighting and, say, dancing, or applying lipstick is
repeated every ten minutes or so. The movie never moves beyond it’s
fascination with that simple trany/boxer irony.
As far as Toom’s
obsession goes, the filmmakers reveal only that it is difficult. A great movie
will take a basic premise like this and use it to go deeper, providing
a back drop in which to explore more pertinent questions. Beautiful
Boxer had that opportunity, but instead chose to remain safely on the
surface — offering preachy monologues, but no real substance.
What does work about the film is the Thai boxing matches. These scenes are understated,
fast, exciting, and liberatingly less pretentious than the rest of
the film. Nong Toom kicking ass, all done up in drag, is pretty
damn hot, and there is a great satisfaction in seeing him beat up on
some of his more chauvinistic foes.
The result is wholly unusual; we
actually end up yearning for a more straightforward action movie that’s unafraid to embrace its own hokiness. Where’s The Karate Kid, or — dare I say it? — Rocky when
you need them? — Nic Sheff